With the head football coaching search at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff narrowed down to three finalists, university officials, fans and the community are getting a chance to meet the men who are hoping to lead the Golden Lions on the gridiron.
First up: Cedric Thomas, the defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach at Alcorn State University, who spoke Tuesday afternoon in the STEM building ballroom on the campus.
Henderson State University head football coach Scott Maxfield was scheduled to address UAPB officials, fans and the community at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Please read Thursday's Commercial for complete coverage of that event.
Eric Dooley, the offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Grambling State University, is scheduled to appear at UAPB at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Thomas has been on the Alcorn staff since 2012. During that time, Alcorn has been to four consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship games.
Prior to heading to Alcorn, Thomas served a short stint at the University of Tennessee-Martin as their running backs coach in 2003. Thomas then went on to the junior college ranks at Itawamba Junior College from 2004-05 and was at Mississippi Delta Community College from 2005-12.
Thomas also served as a student assistant at UAPB in 2000 and as a graduate assistant at Alcorn in 2001-02 while earning his master's degree.
Thomas, a UAPB alumnus, opened his speech Tuesday with remarks on how honored and humbled he is to be this far in consideration for the Golden Lions football head coaching job.
"In 1998, I hit the ground running when I came to the yard," Thomas said. "I enjoyed the camaraderie, the brotherhood, and the family atmosphere. Basically, some of the principles I follow today, the life lessons, and my teachers have me where I am at today. I can remember sitting in the Hazzard and thinking if the Health and Safety Department came in here we'd all be locked up. But nobody complained because all we saw was the weights, the curls, and no excuses.
"It was the teachings of doing a lot with a little and going above and beyond. That's who I am, and that's what I'm about. That's why I applied for the job, and I would love to be the head coach at UAPB. I'm not applying for any other job to be a head coach, that's not what I want to do. I don't want to be a head coach anywhere else. I'm here for the duration.
"If I come to Pine Bluff, I won't move. You would have to move me out of here. I'm not looking for 10-to-12 wins and a high success rate so I can get the next job. This is home, this is where I want to make it, and this is where I want to spend the rest of my life."
Thomas was offered a football scholarship to play for the Golden Lions coming out of Eastside High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Unfortunately, Thomas had to then enroll at Mississippi Delta Community College due to a low GPA,
But before leaving UAPB, he was assured that if he handled his business in the classroom in junior college, his spot would always be available.
Thomas handled his business and earned a scholarship to UAPB, playing cornerback from 1998-99. After his playing career, former UAPB Head Coach Lee Hardman gave him a job as a grad assistant in 2000. Thomas was supposed to return in 2001, but one of his most valuable life lessons tied in with a story he told at the meet and greet Tuesday.
"I was a student assistant at UAPB in 2000," Thomas said. "I thought I was on my way up and I was going to be a big-time college coach. Dante Wesley broke his wrist during a practice on Friday, nobody knew, and Bobby Jet was his back up. I had to go up to the 'Spot' (nightclub) and get Bobby Jet out the 'Spot,' and I had to get him coached up. I didn't have but a couple hours because we had Southern in Little Rock. I got Bobby in there and got him sobered up. We go out there and Coach Hardman sees that Dante has a cast on his arm and he was going crazy. I said, 'Coach, he'll be alright, Jet is going to be good.'
"Jet locked up All-American M. Hayes, and we beat them right there in Little Rock. Hardman said, 'Look, you're going to be my grad assistant, and I'll pay for your schooling.' I had just graduated, and then coach Hardman tells me he didn't have any money for the job. The fact that he told me, I held him to that, and it hurt me. Another coach pulled me to the side and said, 'I got a place for you,' and he sent me to Alcorn. That's how I got to Alcorn in 2001 (as a graduate assistant)."
Thomas said he can relate to the limitations of facilities, practice and the game fields when questioned by UAPB Head Baseball Coach Carlos James on how he would handle it.
"I come from nothing," Thomas said. "I'm getting in out of the mud, as some say. That's who I am, and if you give me something, I'll say thank you, but I'm really not expecting it. I'm expecting to get it done, and the only persons that can get it done is my staff and I. I want the kids to be proud of their degree when they leave, and I don't want them to feel second nature to anyone."
Alcorn is fresh off of clinching their fourth consecutive Eastern Division title, and Thomas said he believes he was a key factor in the Braves' success.
"Not to toot my own horn, but I think I was very instrumental," Thomas said. "When I got back in '12, I knew the inner workings of the place. I was able to tap into some resources that a lot of people didn't know of. But we just worked, we didn't have a lot of pop-up sleds and dummies, we just had to get it done. In 2012, we were 4-7, and in 2013, we were 9-3. The statistics of the games and the wins and losses didn't really tell the upper-level achievement of the kids. It was the mindset, they knew if they did it right consistently they would be successful. To have faith and understand if they took that block on a certain way, 10 out of 10 times it was going to be a 10 out of 10 success rate, and that's where we're at now. I think we can do the exact same thing back here at home."
When asked if he would consider himself a defensive-minded head coach, Thomas referenced the fact that after coaching for so long there is a certain knowledge for all facets of the game, but defense is his calling card.
Thomas hasn't had a chance to evaluate the personnel that the Golden Lions will return, and he won't make any critical judgments on the past struggles of UAPB's defense until then.
"When you get to 15-16 years of coaching, you have a background, but you have to be above average in all of it," Thomas said. "That's been my expertise, defensively, but as you go against offenses so much you're really looking at yourself in a mirror. Defensively, I haven't looked at the numbers, so it's hard for me to say how I can improve the UAPB defense when I haven't went in and watched every snap. I'm going to watch every snap before I evaluate anybody. I'll bring each individual in the office, and I'll have a grading sheet ... I'll say, here's the things I feel like you need to work on. I know defensively we'll be disruptive but disciplined, and at the end of the day it'll stop them from getting three and stop them from getting six."
Thomas said he believes in men who stay true to their word, and that's the type of guys he will look to hire on his staff. He wants guys who can be accountable for their end of the stick.
"Integrity," Thomas said. "That one time that hurt me in my coaching profession was coach not being a man of his word. So I look for high integrity men, that's when you say something you mean it. When you say something you do it, and that's just it. I have a simple rule, just don't lie to me. You don't have to be dishonest, just tell the truth. I want knowledgeable coaches that understand this brand. It's not for everybody, you have to be a special coach."
Thomas wrapped up his time at the podium with a message to the university's administration, the UAPB athletic department, the supporters of Golden Lions football and the community of Pine Bluff.
"I am who I am. I am the people, and I am UAPB," Thomas said. "I just appreciate the support, and I appreciate the things that you've done without me as the head coach. All of these pretty nice buildings weren't here when I left, and that's a good sign. I just know I am the man for the job, and this is where I want to be. It's going to be tough, my whole journey has been tough, and I don't want anyone to start handing me anything. I want to earn it. Let's get this thing back rolling, and I want the community to a part of it. It's really set up for a great run, and I want to be a part of it."