Wednesday afternoon, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff hired their 20th head football coach, Cedric Thomas.
For Thomas, UAPB feels like home, and he credits it as a lifesaver, adding that he's fortunate to take over as the head man for the Golden Lions football program.
"This place saved my life in 1998," Thomas said.
The announcement of Thomas as the head coach was led by the UAPB athletics department, and a hefty crowd of Golden Lions faithful showed up to support the change. Thomas was the last of three finalists for the job.
Henderson State University’s Head Coach, Scott Maxfield, bowed out of contention after HSU offered him a substantial contract extension. Grambling’s offensive coordinator, Eric Dooley, chose to accept the head coaching position at Southern University after being interviewed by UAPB.
UAPB fired former head coach Monte Coleman shortly after this season ended. It was one of many losing seasons in recent years.
Thomas is a native of Cleveland, Mississippi, and out of high school he had the opportunity to play football and basketball at Mississippi Delta Community College from 1996-1997. After completing his time at MDCC, Thomas received a football scholarship to UAPB, where he finished out his playing career from 1998-1999 as a corner back. Thomas graduated from UAPB in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree in health, education and recreation.
Former UAPB Head Coach Lee Hardman gave Thomas his first shot at coaching as a graduate assistant in 2000, and now he'll get his first head coaching opportunity 17 years later with the Golden Lions.
"Thanks for taking this chance on a first-year head coach," Thomas said. "Just know now that the last five championships were won by first-year head coaches... . So don't be alarmed."
Although Thomas is a first-time head coach, he's been part of championship winning teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference during his time at Alcorn State University. Most recently, Thomas spent the past five seasons at Alcorn, and the past two as their Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach. Alcorn won SWAC championships in 2014 and 2015.
Before his previous stint at Alcorn, Thomas spent time in the junior college ranks, and he had a stint at the University of Tennessee-Martin as their running backs coach in 2003.
UAPB athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr. is confident that the right hire was made, and he explained the process that he and the formed search committee went through.
“I gave our search committee a task from the jump,” Hardy said. “After they’ve gone through nearly 70 applications, they cut it down to three. Three individuals that either of which could do an outstanding job for us. As things happened, it came down to Cedric. I have no doubts that he is the right man for our program. Somebody who’s familiar with us, somebody who’s coming from a winning program, and I think he has the right attitude. Number one, he’ll put together a great staff, and number two, he will instill discipline in our student-athletes. He’s the right man for our job.”
The early signing period — held Dec. 20-22 — has come and gone. Thomas indicated that he has a few members on his staff, but the rest are still in the process of being assembled.
"My first plan of action is to get a coaching staff together," Thomas said. "I'm in the process right now of making both a short and long list of coaches and just reaching out to those guys and getting that established. I will also get in the recruiting battles right away."
With Thomas formerly being a defensive coordinator in the SWAC, you can look for him to put his imprint on that side of the ball from the start.
Offensively, Thomas plans to hire the best coaches he can on that side of the ball, and he believes he has expertise and insight that he can instill on that side of the ball as well.
The Golden Lions have posted a record of 5-28 in the past three seasons. Winning has been scarce throughout the program lately, and Thomas explained how he plans to put a winning product on the field.
“Well, what I won't do is jeopardize the program for wins and losses when it relates to who has the highest score when the time runs out. At the end of the day when, they get out in society, they have to be productive citizens. If we do that and carry the same characteristics of football over to life we’ll be successful. That’s the wins and losses that I relate to. It’s a direct reflection. If we do things right, if we’re disciplined, hard-nosed, and we work and be unselfish, at the end of the game we know that our number will be higher.”
Thomas already has a profound passion for the Golden Lions, and during his speech he recalled times of playing at Pumphrey Stadium, and working out in the Hazzard. The question is how will he instill that same passion into his staff and players?
"Well, this great institution has always been associated with such passion," Thomas said. "You guys haven't wavered, I've seen it. The passion has to go from the field to the scoreboard, and you'll see the crowd."
As for the remainder of his staff, Thomas isn't able to release names until certain paper work is completed, but he's confident that he can surround himself with the right coaches.
"Lets get ready to change the mind-set and go to work," Thomas said.