First-year Northwestern State football coach Jay Thomas said he and his staff hit the ground running after he was hired four days before Christmas.
He was certainly on the move Wednesday, accompanying offensive tackle Blayne Cole and defensive tackle Lesley Deamer to the Southland Conference Media Day in Lake Charles in the afternoon before heading to Baton Rouge and speaking to a group of Demons alumni at night.
When Thomas arrived at the Crowne Plaza he joked that his “jet” — really, his pickup truck — had to stop “to refuel in Lafayette.”
“We’ve just been running from one interview to the next interview,” Thomas said. “We’ve been talking football nonstop all day. It’s been a great experience.”
But, Thomas said, he and his team are ready to stop talking and start working when preseason practice begins Aug. 5. In the meantime, 85 players have been working on their own on campus.
Northwestern State was picked sixth among the eight SLC teams at Media Day, but Thomas said the Demons’ expectations are much higher than that.
“It’s not broke,” Thomas said, “so there’s not a lot to fix.”
Thomas, a native of baker, replaced former LSU assistant Bradley Dale Peveto, who was not retained after his fourth Northwestern State team finished 4-7 last season.
When the Demons went looking for a replacement, Athletic Director Greg Burke said he was barraged with phone calls from former players who learned under Thomas when he was Northwestern State’s defensive line coach as well as assistant head coach in 2010 and 2011.
“I kept getting calls from players saying, “hire coach T, hire coach T,”” Burke said. “He made a tremendous impression on our players and our community.”
Thomas has been on the job seven months, which he said was “a huge advantage” compared to the 2½ weeks he had when he started his last head coaching tenure at Nicholls State in 2004. The Colonels promoted him from defensive coordinator after Daryl Daye was dismissed in the wake of NCAA infractions.
“At that point, I just had to keep things going,” Thomas said. “Here I’ve had time to implement everything sooner in process in getting ready for the season. It’s still been a whirlwind.”
Thomas, who was 27-35 and won an SLC co-championship in 2005 during his six seasons at Nicholls, spent last season as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Daye at Division II Missouri Southern.
“Even though I’ve been a head coach for six years,” Thomas said, “I hadn’t been a head coach for three years, and I forgot how much work it really is. But it’s enjoyable.”
The first thing Thomas did after being introduced to the alumni Wednesday night was introduce his 17 assistant coaches individually.
Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Chris Boone coached the linebackers at Nicholls in 2002 and 2003 when Thomas was the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
Boone said he and Thomas kept in touch over the years and when he was released as Jacksonville State’s defensive coordinator after a 6-5 season in 2012, he jumped at the chance to join Thomas, turning down a couple of other offers.
“I’ve worked for nine head coaches, and he’s by far the most down earth,” Boone said. “What you see is what you get. He’s unbelievable to work for — the salt of the earth. He’s why I’m here.
“A lot of credit goes to the previous staff. They worked their tail off. They left a good, solid foundation and we’re going to build off of that. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I feel good about where we’re at.”
Like Boone, former LSU long snapper Joey Crappell turned down another opportunity to work with Thomas. Crappell joined Peveto’s staff as a graduate assistant before last season after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He enrolled at Northwestern State to get a master’s degree in health and human performance/sports management. Crappell, a native of Franklin, said the degree will give him a variety of options if he chooses to stay in coaching or pursue an athletics administration or business career.
Crappell said Peveto, who is special teams coordinator/safeties coach on Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky, offered him a special teams graduate assistant position, but he preferred to stay on schedule with his master’s and learn another perspective from Thomas in Natchitoches.
“I’m blessed to be a part of this staff,” Crappell said. “(Thomas) does everything different from what I learned at LSU scheme wise.
“It’s proven that the LSU system works, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and that’s what I want to learn. It will help me to learn more and become a better coach overall.”
Thomas, who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at LSU from 1988-90, and his staff make their debut when they visit Missouri State on Aug. 31. The Demons play their home opener against Southern on Sept. 7.
“We’ve got a lot to look forward to,” Thomas said. “I think our kids are looking forward to getting started. We ended spring practice on a high note and had a lot of confidence. Now we need to hit the ground running again when we get on field Aug. 5.”