There wasn’t a need for Cecil Thomas to put on a coat and tie, update his resume’ and conduct an interview to become Walker High’s permanent head football coach.
According to school principal Jason St. Pierre, Thomas has done quite well wearing an open-collared coaching shirt and khakis.
Since the day of the Sept. 11 resignation of former head coach Lester Ricard, St. Pierre elevated Thomas from offensive line coach to interim head coach and laid out a timetable for naming a permanent head coach.
St. Pierre wanted to open the job to interested candidates and conduct formal interviews from which he would select his new coach.
With Thomas having led Walker to an 8-2 record (7-2 as interim coach), the District 4-5A runners-up and No. 11 seed that will be at home for this week’s Class 5A state playoff game, St. Pierre decided his best candidate was right in front of him.
St. Pierre removed the “interim” tag Monday morning and named Thomas as the school’s permanent head coach with the Wildcats beginning preparations for Friday’s 7 p.m. postseason opener against No. 22 Hahnville.
“Coach Cecil’s done a phenomenal job keeping the kids together,” St. Pierre said. “It could have easily done a different direction, but we’re 8-2. The coaches like him and in speaking to the players, they really like him. I think he deserves a chance."
St. Pierre said in breaking the news to Thomas, a native of Hammond and former offensive lineman at the University of Utah, he became somewhat emotional.
“It’s a job he wanted, he doesn’t want to go anywhere,” St. Pierre said. “He’s done the job and he’s done it under some circumstances that are not ideal. To be in the playoffs and have one of the most successful seasons; he deserves a shot. He deserves an opportunity to lead our football program in a permanent capacity.”
Thomas was admittedly caught off guard by Pierre’s timing, especially after Walker suffered a season-ending 35-21 loss at Central last Friday.
“He surprised me,” said the 48-year-old Thomas, whose son C.J. is a freshman at Walker. “I wanted to be here. I didn’t expect it, especially after a loss. I thought we would talk about the logistics of the (playoff) game that I needed to get done. It was a true blessing.”
Thomas took over as Walker’s interim coach three hours before kickoff of a Week 2 game at Broadmoor, leading the Wildcats to a 27-6 road victory.
Walker won its first four games under Thomas, including a back-and-forth game that was decided in the fourth quarter with Slidell, a team that’s also headed for postseason play.
The Wildcats opened league play in resounding fashion with a 50-22 victory at Scotlandville for what is believed to the school’s first win over the Hornets.
“I never doubted the kids having my back. I was here for them and didn’t want to see their hard work go to waste,” Thomas said. “I’m proud of the way they responded. They could have gone south on us. They hung tough, they hung together.”
Thomas credited his role as the program’s strength and conditioning coach for developing a strong connection with the entire team.
“You’re with them all the time, you build a special bond with the kids,” he said. “They knew from Day 1 that I had their best interest at heart because of the hours we spent grinding in the weight room. I enjoy that part of being a head coach, among other things.”
St. Pierre pointed to the team’s growing resiliency, first displayed in the win over Slidell, as a trait that further endeared him to Thomas. The Wildcats also rallied at home from a 10-point first-half deficit against parish rival Live Oak, reeling for 27 unanswered points to triumph, 27-10.
“He’s utilized the talent we have and put our kids in position to win,” St. Pierre said. “There have been adjustments made during the game. And to do that on a week-to-week basis and not know if he’s going to be the head coach is impressive. The kids have shown a fortitude to win and coach Thomas has helped them keep a positive attitude and kept them up every game.”
Previous head coaching experience was another compelling argument on Thomas’ behalf that St. Pierre also factored.
Thomas, who has coached 18 years, served for three years as the head coach at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City, Utah, guiding them to a 31-7 record and Class 4A state runner-up finish in 2008. He also coached at Hammond High.
“We’re starting to kind of build something here and I didn’t want to see the fruits of our labor go through the door,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a good foundation to start. We have an awesome administration and Mr. St. Pierre’s one of the best to work for. We’re blessed with great kids and great facilities. We’re blessed with a great community. You have everything here to be successful. That’s what makes it special.”