Sawyer posted an incredible 216-36 record in 20 seasons (1949-68) as the Bulldogs' head coach. None of his 20 teams ever suffered a losing record and he ended his career with a 16-0 mark in 1968. His winning rate of 85.7 percent was the highest of any coach in any sport in Southeastern Conference history upon his retirement from coaching at State in 1968.
He guided State to four straight top 15 national finishes (1965-68), including tying for third in the country in both 1966 and 1967. The Bulldogs also won the prestigious Cape Coral [FL] National Invitational Tournament three times (1966-68).
Sawyer led MSU to the SEC crown in 1965 and 1967 and finished second in the league three other times. He was named 1967 SEC Coach of the Year. He initiated the Mississippi Intercollegiate tournament during his first season at State in 1949. State's teams proceeded to win the event 17 times in his 20-year career.
Individually, Sawyer coached players to 15 different SEC singles titles and six in doubles. He tutored one all-American and six all-SEC players.
He served as secretary of the SEC Tennis Coaches Association for 12 years and was chairman of the 1967 Planning Committee for Reorganization of the NCAA Tournament.
Sawyer is a member of four different Halls of Fame: the Mississippi State Sports Hall of Fame (inducted 1975), the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (inducted 1982), the Tennis Foundation of Mississippi Hall of Fame (inducted 1991), and the Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame (inducted 1991).
Not too bad for someone who was hired to coach tennis part-time. Actually appointed as a political science professor at State, he was given the additional job of tennis coach for the extra benefit of $300 per year. When State won its first SEC title, he received a $100 raise.
Though his tennis coaching at State ended in '68, Sawyer continued to teach political science until 1975 when he officially retired from the university. But he did not quit tennis, continuing to play the game and give lessons on his private backyard court in Starkville into his early 80s.
A native of Corinth, Miss., Sawyer received his A.B. degree from Lambuth [TN] College in 1932 and a master's from MSU in 1938. He was a unique five-sport (football, baseball, basketball, track and tennis) letterman in high school and college. But his association with tennis did not truly begin until his junior year at Lambuth. It was then that he watched pro Bill Tilden play a match, and then conduct a clinic, in Memphis that turned his eye towards the sport.
He began his coaching career in Booneville, Miss., in '32, where he taught social science and organized the school's first track and tennis squads. From there, he served as principal (and coached football, basketball, track and tennis) of the junior high in Tupelo. He then coached and taught at Meridian High School (where his tennis teams won five state championships) from 1935-40 and was high school principal in Brookhaven for the following three years.
Sawyer then served three years with the Air Corps during World War II and was chief of the Veterans Administration Education and Training Division in Jackson for two years before coming to MSU in 1947.
He was also a pioneer in the field of driver and traffic safety education. He co-authored the "Syllabus for Driver Education Teachers", published by the American Automobile Association in 1941. In 1955, the AAA selected him for the College Professor's Driver and Traffic Safety Award. And in 1970, when the Mississippi Department of Education decided to publish a curriculum in driver education, Sawyer was selected as committee chair and author.
Sawyer is survived by his wife Helen, daughters Sandra McClelland and Donna Moore, sisters Joyce Henderson and Martha Chronister, brother Clifton, two grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
Graveside services for Sawyer will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Memorial Gardens Park Cemetery in Starkville. Memorials can be made to the MSU Alumni Association at 662-325-2434.