AFL Features: Coach Gary Thomas
Coach Gary Thomas is returning to football after a five-year hiatus from the game, taking over head coaching duties for the Southwest Kansas Storm. His early life was filled with football, growing up the son of a football coach. He played at the high school, junior college, and four-year levels before he shifted into coaching immediately after college.
A History of Coaching Success
"I never go into anything not expecting to be good at it, but I'm also never a guy that's going to get too far ahead of myself with predictions either."
Thomas got an early coaching opportunity with his alma mater, West Texas A&M University, during the 1999-2000 seasons. After that, he made stops at Adams State College from 2001 to 2003 and Western State College from 2004 to 2005. He then got a job with the College of DuPage, eventually earning his first head coaching opportunity for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. After DuPage, he made his most career-defining stint with Dodge City Community College.
In 2013, Thomas inherited a Dodge City program that had only won six total games in their previous five seasons. He began turning the program around from his very first season. That 2013 season, Thomas led the Conquistadors to a respectable 6-4 record, and he did not look back. He ended up with 31 wins from 2013-2018, giving him the third-most wins in program history. His best season came in 2015, when he went 9-3, set a single-season win record, and won his second Jayhawk Conference Coach of the Year award; his first Coach of the Year honors came in 2013.
The Road Ahead
"The game very rarely comes down to the opponent."
Coach Thomas is going to be taking over a very young Storm program. They were introduced in the 2021 season as an expansion team of the Champions Indoor Football League, and in their two seasons since their inception, they have sat at an 8-12 record all the time. This is right in Thomas's wheelhouse and comparable to the situation he took over in Dodge City, but it will be his first season of Arena Football. Most would ask, "Is it hard to go from outdoor football to indoor?" If you ask Coach Thomas, he will tell you he is not afraid of the change.
"There is not one person in this league that didn't start their career in outdoor football as a player or a coach... Football is football."
"Nobody was born into this. I'm not gonna use this as a crutch; I'm not gonna use this as an excuse, and I don't see any reason we should not be successful at any point because I'm newer at this than other people."
In a recent interview, Coach Thomas discussed his coaching style. He has described himself as one who keeps a structured program, but that does not necessarily carry over into his play style. Thomas proclaimed that he is coming into this season eager to break perceptions of how an AFL offense is supposed to be run.
"I'm okay with trying things nobody has ever seen before. I'm okay trying to change this game and be innovative in ways that people think are maybe unnecessary or whatever cause why not...I'm never gonna be limited by what has been done in the past."
Building for Success
"Our main focus has been on the quality of people that we are signing and having a plan for them when they get here."
When it comes to the recruitment game, the Storm sit behind some others when it comes to filled roster spots, but Coach Thomas says this is intentional. This focus for Coach Thomas is on fulfilling the vision that he has for his team and getting quality players- not just filling roster spots quickly.
"Along the way, I have refused to settle for anything less than what I envisioned."
Coach Gary Thomas has a clean slate ahead of him and a promising resumé behind him. With Thomas at the helm, the Storm will be structured, innovative, and unrelenting. The Southwest Kansas Storm look to climb atop the AFL Central and put the Arena Football League on notice.
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Arena Football League Stories from February 12, 2024
- AFL Features: Coach Gary Thomas - Southwest Kansas Storm
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