Track HOF to honor former SU coach Johnny Thomas

{13087 spt Relays}  Advocate staff photo by {John Oubre}. Photo shot on {4/17/05}.  Pelican relays. Southern track coach johnny Thomas.
{13087 spt Relays} Advocate staff photo by {John Oubre}. Photo shot on {4/17/05}. Pelican relays. Southern track coach johnny Thomas.

Longtime Southern University track and field and cross country coach Johnny Thomas has been chosen for induction into the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

Thomas, a standout sprinter at Southern in the early 1960s, coached the men’s and women’s programs at his alma mater for two decades until his death from cancer in June 2008.

He will be honored posthumously at a Dec. 15 induction ceremony held in conjunction with the USTFCCCA Convention in Phoenix, Arizona.

Joining Thomas in this year’s induction class are Chris Daymont (St. Olaf), Tom Donnelly (Haverford), Joey Haines (Southeast Missouri State, Austin Peay, Lipscomb), Lance Harter (Cal Poly, Arkansas) and Ed Nuttycombe (Wisconsin).

According to a USTFCCCA news release, the organization recognizes coaches with enshrinement in its hall for their significant impact on the student-athletes they coach and for their contributions to the sports of track and field and cross country as a whole.

Started in 1995, the USTFCCCA Hall of Fame exists to honor individuals who exemplify the qualities of dedication to the sport as well along with leadership and passion for their profession that serve as an inspiration to coaches.

Thomas was the driving force for the sport at Southern, developing and training athletes who helped the school claim 45 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field under his direction.

He took over the program in 1987 after serving three seasons as a volunteer coach and soon after started an unprecedented string of success at the conference level despite working with a limited budget.

In 1991, the Southern men won their first SWAC outdoor championship in 20 years. That started a 13-year run from 1991 to 2003 during which the Jaguars dominated the league with 11 outdoor and eight indoor titles.

The women’s team had similar success during that period, breaking through to claim its first SWAC title in 1994. That began a run in which the Lady Jaguars won a total of eight outdoor and nine league crowns through the 2004 season.

One of Thomas’ brightest stars was Brian Johnson, a Louisiana native who last week ended a five-year run as the Jaguars’ head coach when he took a job as an assistant coach at Georgia.

Johnson claimed the long jump title at the 2003 NCAA Division I indoor championships and five years later represented the USA in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Thomas also coached two strong 4x400-meter relay teams that earned NCAA honors.

His mile relay unit finished fourth at the 1996 NCAA outdoor championships, and one year later, the Jaguars took third at nationals with a school-record time of 3 minutes, 02.61 seconds.

Thomas, who earned two degrees from Southern, also served for years as director of the Pelican Relays and was active in youth track and field in the community.

Prior to becoming Southern’s full-time head coach, Thomas coached the Southern Lab girls team to three consecutive state titles.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.