Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
New hire Thomas linked to Chaney
Joel Thomas is Arkansas' running backs coach after spending four years at Washington.
FAYETTEVILLE New Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas is eager to reunite with a mentor and take on the SEC challenge next season with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was coordinating Purdue’s offense in 2000 when Thomas, who spent the past four seasons as running backs coach at the University of Washington, brokeinto the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant for the Boilermakers.
“I have three mentors and he’s one of my major three,” Thomas said on a Monday teleconference with Arkansas reporters. “I don’t think this opportunity would have arisen had he not been at Arkansas.
“And obviously going to coach in the SEC is tremendous, I think, for developing my career. ... I’m ready for this opportunity to help the Razorbacks get on top.”
Thomas, from Port Angeles, Wash., wrapped up his season with Washington’s 28-26 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. Washington running back Bishop Sankey ran for 205 yards in the game topush his total to 1,439 yards for the season.
Thomas, 38, coached 1,000-yard running backs in each of his four seasons at Washington.
Chris Polk rushed for 1,113 yards in 2009, becoming the school’s first freshman to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Polk had 1,415 rushing yards in 2010 and 1,488 yards in 2011, the second-highest total at Washington.
“Joel Thomas has a proven record of developing running backs,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. “He excelled at the position as a player and has demonstrated a remarkable ability to connect with his student-athletes and pass his knowledge on to them.
“He also brings a strong background of recruiting in Texas and Dallas specifically, which is a valuable area for us to have a presence. I am extremely confident in Joel’s ability based on his time spent working under Jim Chaney, and I believe Joel’s knowledge and familiarity with Coach Chaney will be abenefit to our offense.”
Thomas has been on Washington’s staff since Steve Sarkisian took the job in 2009. His salary was $190,000 this season, and he was under contract to earn $205,000 in 2013. Thomas’ salary at Arkansas has not been released, and it’s not known if he has a buyout in his deal at Washington.
Thomas, a two-time All-Big West running back at Idaho, holds the Vandals’ career records with 3,929 rushing yards, 51 rushing touchdowns and 765 carries. Thomas was the Big West Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, and he was inducted into the University of Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.
Hooking up with Chaney again was key to Thomas’ decision to joining the Razorbacks.
“Jim is a fun-loving guy, and he’s very intelligent whenit comes to ball,” Thomas said. “He has the awareness to adapt personnel to whatever the situation is. He’s done a great job and that’s what excites me to come work with him.” Thomas spent part of Sunday night on the Internet, looking for video of current Arkansas backs, and he came across footage of fullback Kiero Small and freshman tailback Jonathan Williams.
“I just got off the phone with Kiero Small,” Thomassaid. “Love the way he puts his face on people. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a fullback do that.
“Jonathan Williams, I obviously saw his big-play ability vs. Kentucky. So I got a chance to check out those two guys. I’ve got to keep on digging to find some more on the rest of the group.”
Thomas is expected to pick up recruiting territory in Texas, a state he began recruiting while at Purdue a decade ago.
Joel Thomas at a glancePOSITION Running backs AGE 38 (Birthdate Nov. 7, 1974) HOMETOWN Port Angeles, Wash.
FAMILY Wife Ebbie (Metzinger), son Teyo ALMA MATER Idaho (Health planning and administration, 1999) COACHING HISTORY Purdue grad assistant (2000-2001), Louisville running backs (2002-2003), Idaho co-offensive coordinator/running backs (2004-2005), Washington running backs (2009-2012) and associate head coach for offense (2012).
Sports, Pages 19 on 12/25/2012