HOUSTON — Twenty or so years ago, Chris Thomsen probably didn’t picture coaching the Texas Tech football team, even for one night in a bowl game.
In the early 1990s, the Red Raiders’ interim head coach played pro baseball in the Oakland A’s organization. He could swing the bat, but he faced obstacles. He was a first baseman, but nothing else. He lacked sufficient speed to play the outfield, and his throwing left-handed ruled out any other infield position.
Not to mention the A’s had a first baseman no one was going to budge.
“There were about five of us in the minor-league system at that time,” Thomsen said, “and Mark McGwire wasn’t going anywhere.” Thomsen, who once swatted 21 home runs in a season for TCU, was a 17th-round draft pick and spent two years in the Oakland system. Given his background, he agrees he could just as easily be coaching baseball today. Instead, he’s spent the last 20 years on the football side.
“It kind of went back to which one I liked more,” he said. “I just enjoyed the game of football more, thought it was a little bit more of a team sport maybe.” When Tech coach Tommy Tuberville resigned three weeks ago, Thomsen’s successful seven-year stint as a head coach at Abilene Christian University made him a natural candidate to lead the Red Raiders against Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
During the days after Tuberville’s resignation, while Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt mulled the options to lead the Red Raiders in the bowl game, senior center Deveric Gallington thought Thomsen deserved the chance and hoped he would get it.
“In my five years of being here, I think he’s one of the best things to happen to me, personally,” Gallington said this week. “He was like a father figure to me. He would call, bring me into his office, and we would have private talks. He’s just a good overall Christian man, and I really appreciate that he helped me out with a lot of things away from football.” Support for him seems to be widespread.
“He’s done a great job filling in for coach Tubs,” defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said. “He’s only been here a year, but he’s got the respect of the team.” After a whirlwind of December developments, Thomsen will get his one-and-only chance as Tech’s interim head coach in today’s 8 p.m. game at Reliant Stadium. New coach Kliff Kingsbury takes over as soon as the bowl ends, and Thomsen reportedly will leave to become offensive line coach at Cal.
According to Tech players, Thomsen’s already made a bigger impression than a single win or loss on the record book will reflect.
“Coach Thomsen’s a good dude,” senior running back Eric Stephens said. “When they announced him as the head coach, I knew he had been the head coach at Abilene Christian for a while. It wasn’t a big deal to me, because I love him. He’s a great guy, so it was easy to transition and get adjusted to him.” Thomsen sounds as if the transition has been easy for him as well. He led ACU to the Division II playoffs six times in the last seven years, but Thomsen says Tech seniors such as Seth Doege, LaAdrian Waddle, Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson are just as much a reason for the smooth bowl preparation.
“I’ve done it before as a head coach,” he said, “so it’s really no different than what I’ve done before. If we didn’t have great leaders, it wouldn’t be that fun a deal. But guys like Doege and Waddle, D.J. and Cody, some of those guys, you want to come to work with them.” Tech has had four coaches for its last four bowl games, Ruffin McNeill having also served as interim coach for the Alamo Bowl after the firing of Mike Leach in 2009.
Thomsen just joined the Tech program in January, as offensive line coach. So he doesn’t dispute he might be the most little-known coach to ever take the Red Raiders into a bowl game.
“I’ve only been here not even a year,” he said. “There’s probably a few of the defensive players who don’t even know who I am, because I’m on the offensive side. Ruffin was there 10 years; he was definitely a lot more known. But none of that really plays in for me. I like players, I like helping them develop, and this is a small part of it, getting to do that.”
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