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MICHAEL KITADA, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Troy Thomas was introduced two weeks after John Barnes backed out.

Servite embraces Thomas

Servite embraces Thomas

The Orange County Register
:
The new football coach, who wasn't even among the first candidates interviewed, is 'a 100 percent match.'

ANAHEIM - Servite president Pete Bowen called it the "invisible hand of God."

Whether divine intervention played a part in the hiring of Troy Thomas as the Friars football coach, a palpable sigh of relief settled over the campus Tuesday as the former Crespi High coach was introduced in front of a packed auditorium.

Two weeks after Los Alamitos coach John Barnes, the winningest coach in county history, accepted the Servite job in front of students, parents and faculty, only to rescind his interest hours later, a coach stood in front of the same group and pledged his desire to be there.

"I feel like I've been welcomed into a new family," said Thomas, 36, who graduated from Crespi in 1987 and played football at Cal State Northridge.

Servite administrators said they feel like the true beneficiaries in this deal. They got a proven winner, someone experienced and committed to coaching at a Catholic school and someone looking for the type of leader-building environment on which Servite prides itself.

"He's a 100 percent match for the things we were looking for," Bowen said. "And this wouldn't have had a chance of happening if we wouldn't have gone through what we did with John Barnes."

Thomas wasn't among the original candidates interviewed for the position. He didn'tinquire with Athletic Director Rob Ickes until after Barnes changed his mind and returned to Los Alamitos. Thomas said he was told "we've got someone in the process that we're pretty sure about, but send along your résumé."

He did, Servite officials reciprocated interest late last week, and Friday Thomas found himself having breakfast with school officials.

"Coming down here and meeting these guys, it felt a lot like Crespi," he said.

Thomas took over the struggling program at his alma mater three years ago. The Celts went from a combined 1-19 the two years before his arrival to their first CIF title since 1986 this past fall, with Thomas earning CIF Division X Coach of the Year in the process.

Before that he served as an assistant coach at Westlake High of Westlake Village (which won a CIF title in 1999), Fresno State and the University of Hawaii. He began his career at Crespi as defensive coordinator in 1992.

One thing Thomas doesn't lack is experience working with game-breaking players. He played with former Cal star Russell White, who later joined his coaching staff at Crespi. He helped mentor current NFL players Shaun Williams, a New York Giants strong safety, and Christian Fauria, a New England Patriots tight end, at Crespi.

"He seems like he really knows what he's talking about," said Chris Galippo, Servite's sophomore linebacker who was given Sophomore All-American status by Student Sports magazine. "He carries himself really well; that's the first thing I noticed. He's a stud. I can see him out on the football field getting fired up."

Thomas inherits a Servite team that went 2-8 last season. Longtime coach Larry Toner was reassigned to direct the school's Freshman Formation program after the season. Servite officials stressed Thomas isn't being brought in to perform a similar turnaround to the one he spearheaded at Crespi.

"I want to make sure there's no parallel drawn between 2-8 and 1-19,"Bowen said. "We don't play football just for the sake of playing football. We play football because it helps build character and forms a foundation for life."

It's a philosophy that meshes well with Thomas, an outspoken member of Positive Coaching Alliance.

"I can teach people how to play football, but it's the life lessons we teach, the character that we build - that's how we win," he said. "If you treat guys right and you love them, they'll do anything for you. ... The guys that are here, I can't wait to love them. They're going to get my best."

After two weeks of limbo, the Troy Thomas era at Servite began in earnest Tuesday.

"Sometimes the road to getting the right fit isn't the straightest or most expected," Bowen said.

But, in the end, that road led to Thomas.

Said Galippo: "God works in mysterious ways."


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