NATCHITOCHES – As Jay Thomas walked to the podium Friday in a packed Stroud Room to be introduced Friday afternoon as Northwestern State’s new head football coach, he quietly shared a simple message with his new boss.
Shaking hands with veteran NSU director of athletics Greg Burke, Thomas softly but firmly said, “I’m going to work hard and do this thing right, brother.”
After hearing glowing words from Burke and university president Dr. Randy Webb, and listening to Thomas outlining his vision for the Demon program, people in the audience kept using words such as “sincerity,” “intensity,” “classy,” “passionate” and “winner” as they shared their excitement after the hour-long event.
“Coach Thomas is by far one of the best human beings in the business,” said 2012 senior All-Southland Conference kicker John Shaughnessy.
“If there was a way to get four more years of eligibility,” said fellow 2012 senior defensive end Wade Williams, “I would come back to play for Coach Thomas. He is that special a coach and a man.”
They know first hand. Thomas was the Demons’ defensive line coach in 2010 and 2011 before joining longtime friend Daryl Daye as assistant head coach at Missouri Southern last season. They worked together when Daye was head coach at Nicholls State (1993-2003) and as graduate assistants under legendary LSU assistant coach Pete Jenkins in 1988-89 at LSU. Thomas succeeded Daye as head coach at Nicholls (2004-2009), guiding the Colonels to their only Southland Conference championship (2005) and their highest national ranking (13th, 2007) along with a leap from 740 to a solid 930 score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
After spending six years as the Colonels coach, Thomas said he learned lessons that he’s eager to apply in his new job.
“You always want another opportunity. I’ve got a vision, I’ve got a plan, I’ve got this picture painted in my mind. Now we can get to work making it happen, from day one,” he said.
He dispelled one popular misconception about his offensive philosophy. His Nicholls teams employed the triple option running game, ranking among national rushing leaders annually and often confounding FBS and ranked foes, beating Rice in the 2007 season opener, and coming within the final minutes of upsetting the Big Ten Conference’s Indiana Hoosiers in another season.
“I know everyone thinks I’m this triple option guru. I’m a defensive guy, by trade, but I do understand offense and what gives defenses fits, and that’s where we want to go. We will be creative and innovative. We want to be aggressive. Naturally, we need to be able to run the football, but also, we want to be able to throw the ball,” said Thomas.
“We want to move the chains and control the clock. We want to be in a spread offense, and with the players I believe we can attract here, we can have a lot of fun. I got a text from one of our players at Nicholls, who said, ‘Coach, just throw the ball more up there.’ We’ll do that.”
As several current Demons watched, including All-Southland Conference defensive tackle Lesley Deamer, Thomas gave insight into why those players and others from his days at Nicholls have such great admiration for him and have performed so well for him.
“I respect them, from day one. It’s all in how you treat the guys. If you respect them, you’ll get respect back. There is a fine line and we all have to work at it together. I’m a father and I treat these guys like my kids. They’re all my sons, and that creates a bond,” he said.
At the outset of his remarks, Thomas took time to acknowledge people influential in his life, starting with his father, a longtime prep coach at Baker High School, and LSU’s Jenkins, along with Daye and the top administrators at Northwestern.
“There’s a long list of people I certainly need to thank. At the top of that list is Greg Burke. We’re very fortunate to have a man of his caliber and talents. I appreciate his patience as I made this great decision, and I look forward to working with him to build our program,” he said. “As we sat down, we shared the same vision for the Demon football program, which was very critical in our decision to leave a good place and good friends to come back home to Louisiana.