Joey Thomas has been accused of recruiting since the football coach dusted off Garfield’s program and returned it to prominence.
Possibly even before that, when the former NFL player traded in his cleats for a clipboard to begin his high-school coaching career in 2011 at Ballard.
Now, Thomas is in a place he’s encouraged to recruit.
In April, he accepted an assistant coaching position at Fort Scott Community College. Located about 90 minutes south of Kansas City, Kan., the program is part of the Jayhawk Conference, which is regarded as the SEC of junior-college football.
“This was overdue,” said Thomas of testing his skills as a college coach. “Sometimes your loyalty and principles don’t allow you to do certain things. God put me in a circumstance where I had no other choice but to leave my comfort zone.”
When Thomas took the position at Garfield in 2016, his plan was to become the Monte Kohler of the Central District. Kohler has coached O’Dea football for three decades and led the Fighting Irish to a Class 3A state runner-up finish in November.
Thomas, 38, was notified this spring he was one of 15 teachers being displaced at Garfield. He said he could’ve taken a position elsewhere within Seattle Public Schools, but he had no control over where.
He opted to resign and try a new venture. Thomas was 18-15 in three seasons at Garfield. In 2017, he led the Bulldogs to their first Class 3A state semifinal since 1979 and in 2016, he made national news as his entire team took a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick to protest racial inequality.
Reggie Witherspoon Jr., one of Thomas’ assistants, was named interim coach for the 2019 season. Garfield declined to comment about Thomas’ departure.
“In order for me to grow, I’ve always had to leave home, do it the long way and come back,” said Thomas, a Seattle native who was a star defensive player at Kennedy Catholic and Montana State University before being selected in the third round by the Green Bay Packers in the 2004 NFL draft.
Thomas’ vast football network connected him with Fort Scott coach Kale Pick, who’s entering his third season with the Greyhounds. Pick hired Thomas to be FSCC’s defensive backs coach and special-teams coordinator over the phone after just two conversations.
“It was a natural fit,” Pick said. “We have similar beliefs (and) obviously his having recruiting ties out on the West Coast is something we’ve never had. He brings something that can add to our team.”
Thomas credits his staffs the past eight years to helping 116 kids reach their dreams in playing after high-school, including wide receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison, who signed with Florida State.
Thomas had a meeting with the returning Bulldogs to let them know he was leaving. Former linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, a five-star recruit who had already transferred back to Kennedy Catholic, tweeted, “Much love and good luck coach. …go do what I know you gon do!”
The Greyhounds were 2-8 last season. That the program is still in a rebuild mode was attractive to Thomas, who rebuilt at Ballard and Garfield. Thomas operated the latter like a college program in holding study halls and grade checks along with the way the Bulldogs practice and prepared for games.
“I love teaching, but the opportunity to do football all day long is phenomenal,” said Thomas, who doesn’t plan to relocate his wife and four children, yet. “Without knowing it, I was already prepared for this step and I’m very grateful.”