Chris Thomsen looked into the camera lights and took questions at a news conference Monday, but it wasn’t his first time.
Texas Tech’s choice to be interim head football coach for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas spent the last seven seasons at Abilene Christian University, winning 61 games and leading his team to the NCAA Division II playoffs six times.
The 44-year-old Thomsen, who grew up in Vernon, joined the Tech staff in February as offensive line coach. The fact head-coaching’s not new to him should provide some comfort level.
“A lot of comfort level,” Thomsen said. “I’ve had to look into these camera lights a couple of times. What I’m excited about doing is getting this team focused to play. At the end of the day, you’ve got to eliminate all the distractions, whether it’s this type of situation or any other.
“That’s the bottom line — get everybody focused on winning — and I think my background will help me do that.”
Tommy Tuberville led the Red Raiders to a 7-5 regular season and resigned Saturday to become head coach at Cincinnati. After mulling the in-house possibilities, Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt called Thomsen just before lunch Monday to offer him the interim positiion.
“I said I’d be glad to do it, just because of this group of coaches and this group of players,” Thomsen said. “I’m really excited about partnering with those guys for a common cause, to get a win in that bowl game.”
Tech faces Minnesota (6-6) on Dec. 28 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The Red Raiders resume practicing for that game Wednesday, after the fall-semester final-exam period ends.
Thomsen already has made one big decision, choosing inside receivers coach Sonny Cumbie to be the de-facto offensive coordinator for the next three weeks. Neal Brown resigned Monday to become offensive coordinator at Kentucky, in his home state.
Cumbie quarterbacked Tech to a Holiday Bowl victory in 2004. Thomsen said he’ll ask Cumbie to call plays and coach quarterbacks against Minnesota.
“Having played that position here at Tech, having been in a similar style offense, having worked so closely with Neal the last three years, I think he’ll do a great job in that role,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen played football and baseball at TCU before transferring to Abilene Christian for his last year. He was a second-team all-America tight end for the Wildcats.
He had a record of 61-21 as head coach at ACU from 2005 through 2011. In 2006, he led the Wildcats to an 8-3 mark and their first appearance in the NCAA Division II playoffs. That was the first of six consecutive postseason trips as his teams went 10-3 in 2007, 11-1 in 2008, 9-4 in 2009, 11-1 in 2010 and 8-3 in 2011.
His run was notable for a 2008 second-round playoff game in which ACU beat West Texas A&M 93-68 with the two teams combining to set numerous single-game records.
Thomsen’s team had 810 yards total offense and scored touchdowns on 13 of 14 possessions, while WT quarterback Keith Null set school records throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. The Buffaloes had 721 yards.
“Mostly what I remember from that game is outstanding players, outstanding talent on the field,” Thomsen said. “There’s a lot of guys in that ball game on both sides of the field that are playing in the NFL now, and I remember some outstanding performances by great players and assistant coaches on both sides coming up with great plans.
“That was a track meet. That was like coaching in a video game. That was a day to remember for sure.”
Thomsen left ACU last winter to become running backs coach at Arizona State. He was there only a few weeks before he accepted a spot on Tech’s staff.
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