Tris Coffin, originally from California, migrated east to attend Haverford College, the University of Virginia and finally the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Ph.D. in English in 1949. He joined the Denison English department in the fall of that year and began coaching the tennis team in the spring. His teams won 81 matches, lost only 22, and took five Ohio Athletic conference championships. In OAC tournament play, his teams never finished lower than fourth place. His 1956 tennis team was the first unbeaten team in Denison’s history and its star player, Shaw Emmons went on to win the national small-college NCAA tournament in 1959.
Even though Coffin is primarily recognized for his coaching success with the Big Red tennis team, he showed his versatility by improving the Denison soccer program, as well. In 1956, he assumed the head coaching duties of the Big Red soccer team which had lost all 10 of its 1955 games. In his first year, he directed a team that won the Ohio soccer League championship and finished with a 6-2-2 record.