NATCHITOCHES — As Jay Thomas walked to the podium Friday to be introduced as Northwestern State’s new football coach, he shared a message with his new boss.
Shaking hands with athletic director Greg Burke, he said, “I’m going to work hard and do this thing right, brother.”
Thomas, a Baker native, replaces Bradley Dale Peveto, who was fired in November. Thomas was the Demons’ defensive line coach in 2010 and ’11 before joining longtime friend Daryl Daye as assistant head coach at Missouri Southern last season.
They worked together when Daye was head coach at Nicholls State (1999-2003) and as graduate assistants under assistant Pete Jenkins in 1988-89 at LSU.
Thomas succeeded Daye as coach at Nicholls (2004-09), guiding the Colonels to their only Southland Conference championship in 2005 and their highest national ranking (13th in 2007). After six years as the Colonels’ coach, Thomas said he learned lessons that he’s eager to apply to his new job.
“You always want another opportunity,” he said. “I’ve got a vision, I’ve got a plan, I’ve got this picture painted in my mind. Now we can get to work making it happen — from Day One.”
Thomas dispelled one misconception about his offensive philosophy. His Nicholls teams employed the triple option, annually ranking among national rushing leaders, but Thomas is open to other ideas.
“I know everyone thinks I’m this triple-option guru. I’m a defensive guy by trade, but I do understand offense and what gives defenses fits, and that’s where we want to go,” he said. “We will be creative and innovative. ... We want to be in a spread offense and, with the players I believe we can attract here, we can have a lot of fun.”
As several players watched, including All-Southland defensive tackle Lesley Deamer, Thomas described how he has been able to build such strong relationships at Nicholls.
“I respect them, from Day One. It’s all in how you treat the guys,” he said. “If you respect them, you’ll get respect back. There is a fine line, and we all have to work at it together. I’m a father, and I treat these guys like my kids. They’re all my sons, and that creates a bond.”
Thomas complimented his predecessors — Peveto, who led the program since 2009, and Scott Stoker (2002-08).
“The foundation of the program is here,” Thomas said. “I’d like to thank coach Peveto, who has left a good foundation to work from. He was one of the first to call me last night and congratulate me. Also, coach Stoker called me last night. They both care about this university and poured their hearts and souls into this program, so I’m not walking into a rebuilding situation. Knowing I have their friendship and support means a great deal.”
Thomas said he’s moving quickly to build a staff and contact recruits.
“I was up until 2:30 this morning returning texts and calls, but I love it,” he said. “I’m so excited about what we can do.”