SAN DIEGO — Not quite two years ago, Chris Thomsen left the Arizona State staff to coach at Texas Tech. Not quite a year ago, he left Tech for a job at Arizona State.
The football gods must have taken notice and showed their sense of humor. In Monday’s Holiday Bowl, Thomsen will be coaching for ASU against the team for whom he was interim head coach at this time last year.
Thomsen was the man in charge when the Red Raiders beat Minnesota at the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, but the breakup of Tommy Tuberville’s staff led to his returning to ASU as assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
Few introductions will be needed when he takes his place on the sideline opposite the Red Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium.
“That’ll be a little bit different, knowing some of those kids that I knew last year,” Thomsen said Thursday after the Sun Devils’ practice at Mesa College. “Once you get started, it doesn’t matter, but being in a bowl and seeing guys’ activities before the game is a little bit different than a normal regular-season game.
“So I look forward to seeing some of those guys, (have) a real good relationship with some of those players and I’m excited about seeing them.”
Thomsen was named Tech’s interim head coach last Dec. 10, two days after Tuberville resigned. He prepared the Red Raiders for three weeks, led them to the win over Minnesota and then picked an offer from Arizona State over an offer from California. He saved himself some rough Saturdays, considering the Golden Bears went 1-11 this season and the Sun Devils are 10-3.
“It’s been a fun year,” Thomsen said. “Coach (Todd) Graham’s done a great job getting things pointed in the right direction in a short period of time. Players rallied around that, and we’ve got a lot of really good leaders like we had at Tech last year, some good seniors. That’s been a key for us. It’s been an enjoyable year, a good ride.”
Thomsen left Tech on a high note. Last December at Reliant Stadium, the Red Raiders beat Minnesota 34-31 on a last-play field goal from Ryan Bustin.
“I remember winning the game more than anything and how we won it,” Thomsen said of last December’s events. “(Quarterback Seth) Doege and the way he kind of bounced back through that game. Bustin hitting that kick. That was big. That was fun.”
Thomsen’s move from Lubbock to Tempe, Ariz., is the reverse of what happened after the 2011 season. He left a successful head-coaching tenure at Abilene Christian University to be running backs coach at ASU, then jumped to Tech a few weeks later as offensive line coach.
“I was coaching the running backs here (for ASU),” Thomsen said, “so going to Tech to coach the (offensive) line was a little better. O-line’s a little better position in terms of responsibility and pay and all that. So it was a good move there.”
Evidently, Thomsen didn’t burn his bridges in Tempe. The Sun Devils offered him a spot again last winter when Tech assistants were looking for jobs. His ASU connection: Sun Devils offensive coordinator Mike Norvall played at Central Arkansas when Thomsen was the line coach at UCA, and the two had stayed in touch over the years.
As for Monday’s game, Thomsen said the insight he can provide to help beat the Red Raiders is less about Xs and Os and more about understanding what makes the players tick.
“There’s not a lot there I can help with schematically,” he said, “because, A, it’s a different system that I coached in and, B, there’s 12 games on film. We can watch plenty and see what they do schematically.
“It’s more personally. Who are the great competitors? Who do we have to take away?”
When it became apparent that Tech and ASU were on a collision course, Thomsen said he looked forward to facing his old team. Naturally, it’s forced friends and family back in Texas to have to choose sides.
“My sister lives in Wichita Falls and she’s a Tech grad,” Thomsen said, “so she’s having a hard time putting up the double-T stuff for the day and cheering for the Sun Devils, but she said she’s going to do that.
“My best friend from high school that I grew up with in Vernon, he lives in Lubbock. He’s trying to call me and get updates. I’m like, ‘Man, leave me alone.’ He is a Tech fan.
“Tech is a great place, Lubbock’s a great city and I have a lot of good memories there.”
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