For years, Austin Thomas witnessed LSU coach Les Miles shift into recruiting mode.
This happens at camps, during in-home visits and on phone calls. Miles flashes the charm, morphing into the goofy, lovable guy who helps woo so many prized prospects to Baton Rouge.
“He’s good at that side of it,” Thomas said in an interview with The Advocate on Friday. “I’ve just never been the recruit.”
He was 10 days ago, when the wheels started turning for his eventual return to the LSU football staff. It began during a casual phone conversation with a person he refers to as his “second father,” Ed Orgeron, LSU’s new recruiting coordinator.
“I really was having a lighthearted conversation with Coach O,” Thomas said. “We were going back and forth. One day, we were kind of talking and he said, ‘You got any interest in coming to LSU?’ I said, ‘If it’s right, let’s see if we can make it happen.’
“Next thing you know,” Thomas continued, “Coach Miles is on the phone telling us how valuable (wife) Brittney and I are to him.”
Miles achieved his goal, getting a commitment from this highly regarded guy by giving him a new title and monetary boost. Thomas isn’t just LSU’s director of player personnel anymore. He’s also an assistant athletic director – the same title Southern Cal gave him to convince him to leave Baton Rouge in February.
The 30-year-old Thomas spent less than three months out West – the first six weeks of that alone in a cramped hotel room across from USC’s campus in downtown Los Angeles. His family – wife Brittney and their 10-month-old son – only moved to L.A. just a month ago.
“It’s good to be back,” Thomas said. “It was the long way around, but it’s worked out for the best.”
So what exactly does Thomas do? He oversees LSU’s non-coaching football recruiting staff, the behind-the-scenes operation of the program that helps identify, assess and vet potential recruits. A team of students and interns work under Thomas scouring the country for what he calls “the next great talent.”
They build recruiting databases through country-wide all-state and all-regional teams, starting with Louisiana and working their way out.
“This guy might be a 2019 prospect, but he might be the all-state guy in 3A,” Thomas said, providing an example. “I’ve trained a lot of these (students and interns) to really help me with that process. I’ll say, ‘Hey do you like him?’ and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, you need to take a look at him,’ and I’ll write up a summary and pass it to the coaches.”
This forms LSU’s all-important recruiting big board, a list of prospects for the next three to five recruiting classes. Thomas is in charge of organizing coaches’ recruiting trips and helping with camps.
“Austin is a known commodity,” Miles said on 104.5 FM’s Culotta & the Prince on Friday morning. “He’s very professional, understands the personnel game. His evaluations are tremendous. He puts order to who we offer and who’s available. He’s a tremendous personality and talented young man. We’re thrilled to have him back.”
Thomas’ role at LSU the previous three years is expected to grow with that new title of his. He’s unsure exactly how, but he’ll remain in charge of that behind-the-scenes recruiting operation that helps coaches “put the pieces together” to future football teams.
That’s something Thomas has done since a child – all with the goal of evolving into an NFL general manager.
“When I was young, I’d play Madden (NFL), and I’d never play a game. I’d simulate the game,” he said. “I’d do the draft and the management. That’s always been my passion.”
He’s back in Baton Rouge doing just that – after an oh-so brief hiatus.
“I’ve just been telling everybody,” he said, “I went to study abroad and I’m back.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.