Thomas, 52, was introduced Friday at a press conference in the Stroud Room of the NSU Athletic Fieldhouse. He has been defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the past year at Division II Missouri Southern in Joplin, following two seasons as the Demons’ defensive line coach and assistant head coach in 2010 and 2011.
Thomas spent 14 seasons at Nicholls, the last five (2004-2009) as head coach. Despite hurricanes that interrupted preseason or the regular season in three years, he had an overall 27-35 record that included Nicholls’ only Southland Conference championship (2005 co-championship) and wins over four nationally-ranked teams and FBS foe Rice. His Colonels finished the 2005 season ranked 17th in the Sports Network’s FCS Top 25, and reached a school-record high ranking of 13th in 2007.
During his tenure as head coach, Thomas instituted academic emphasis which resulted in the Nicholls team’s Academic Progress Rate improving from 746 to 930 over his five seasons.
Burke, who made the decision to seek a new head coach on Nov. 19, said first-hand experience working with Thomas at Northwestern and watching his teams at Nicholls proved pivotal.
The Demons are eager to return as Southland Conference championship contenders and have hired a coach who has a league crown to his credit.
Nicholls defeated non-conference foes such as Eastern Washington and Florida A&M while posting a 4-2 record against the Demons amid a 17-21 league record under Thomas. He was the 2005 Southland Conference coach of the year and a finalist for the Sports Network’s Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
Among players he recruited and developed at Nicholls is star cornerback and kick returner LaDarius Webb of the Baltimore Ravens and three other NFL Draft picks, Kareem Moore (Washington, 2007), Jacob Bender (New York Jets, 2005) and Chris Thompson (Jacksonville, 2003).
He was defensive line coach at Southeast Missouri State from 1993-99 and was a graduate assistant coach under the legendary Pete Jenkins at LSU from 1988-90, part of a staff that guided the Tigers to the 1988 Southeastern Conference championship.
Thomas replaces Bradley Dale Peveto, whose contract was not renewed after a 4-7 season that was the Demons’ fourth straight losing season. Thomas guided Nicholls to a pair of winning seasons and a .500 record in a third season in a program that had only one season of .500 or better in the previous seven campaigns. His three .500 or better seasons gave Nicholls three of only four at that level in the past 13 years.