Thomas's No. 5 jersey is one of three basketball uniforms retired by the Demons. The Texarkana, Texas, native earned All-America honors in 1941. He was also a highly-successful head basketball coach at his alma mater from 1951-57 who earned his doctoral degree and rose to be the university's vice president of academic affairs until retiring in 1978.
Thomas, 93, passed away at home in Natchitoches Sunday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Visitation Tuesday is from noon until 1:30 at Blanchard-St. Denis Funeral Home in Natchitoches, with a rosary recited at 1:30. The Mass of Christian Burial follows at 2:30 downtown in the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, with burial following at the nearby Catholic Cemetery.
He came to Northwestern, then Louisiana Normal, in 1939 as a football recruit from Texarkana Junior College, but soon switched to basketball after impressing legendary coach H. Lee Prather in a tryout. He helped the 1940-41 Demons to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament in Kansas City, where he suffered a broken nose in an opening round win but continued to play through a second-round defeat.
The smallest starter in the tournament at 5-foot-5, Thomas earned second-team all-tournament honors on a 10-man roster and was named the Demons' most valuable player in the tourney. A week later, he was named to the NAIA All-America team.
He soon joined the U.S. Navy, where he played on a Navy basketball team including two other redheads, NBA coaching greats "Red" Auerbach (Celtics) and "Red" Holzman (Knicks). Thomas scouted from 1958-77 for Holzman and the Knicks.
After World War II, he coached all sports at Bastrop High School for five years before returning to Northwestern to succeed Prather as head basketball coach. He guided the Demons to an outstanding 129-76 record in seven seasons, averaging almost 19 wins a season and recording three straight 20-win seasons while capturing two Gulf States Conference championships.
Thomas coached Northwestern to wins over Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU (103-73). As a player or coach for the Demons, he never experienced a losing season. He was also an outstanding track athlete who was a charter member of the university's Graduate N Club Hall of Fame.
He was enshrined in the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame in 1957, and in 1969, became only the second basketball player enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, preceded only by LSU's All-America guard, Sparky Wade.
In 1979, the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches presented Thomas with its annual "Mr. Louisiana Basketball" award in recognition of his career accomplishments in the sport. He already had been included in the LABC Hall of Fame.
Thomas was also named to the NSU Hall of Distinction, the Long Purple Line, in 1993 and the Hall of Distinguished Educators by the NSU College of Education in 2007.
He became a nationally-competitive age-group badminton player and an avid runner. After retiring from Northwestern, he held teaching positions at Tulane and the University of North Texas.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Sadie, along with nine children, 23 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the Thomas family requests memorial donations to the Charles F. and Sadie G. Thomas Scholarship at NSU through the NSU Foundation and Alumni Association, or a charity of the donor's choice.