North Augusta High School got its man.
Brian Thomas, the head coach at Northern Guilford, N.C., formally accepted the post as the head coach and athletic director at North Augusta. Thomas will replace Dan Pippin, who took the same duties at Greenwood High School on Feb. 17.
“I have 20 years in time in South Carolina,” Thomas said of the move on Thursday. “I was in Lancaster for 16 years, then I went to Greenville for four years. I have family in South Carolina; my mother still lives there and my two brothers live there. I guess I'm just trying to get back home.”
One of the major draws for Thomas was the fact that North Augusta is a one-school town. Northern Guilford is just one of a number of directional Guilfords in North Carolina, with the others being Western, Eastern, Southeast, Southwest, Southern, Northeast and Northwest.
“That's something I really like,” Thomas said. “Hopefully you will get all of the support instead of it being divided up with 16 other schools, I think. I really respect what Coach Pippin has done there. He might remember me, I was an assistant coach in Lancaster and we scrimmaged him when he was at South Aiken a couple of times. We drove down there, and he drove up to our place. I really respect what he did in North Augusta in getting that program back on track. He's going to be a tough guy to follow.”
At Northern Guilford, Thomas was defensive coordinator for a team that won three consecutive state championships.
In his first, and only, year as the team's head coach, he took the Nighthawks to the title game before falling to Crest, 23-17. At North Augusta, he'll be tasked with trying to bring a football state title to a town that hasn't had one since 1989.
In spite of a lack of a championship, the Yellow Jackets have been one of the top programs in South Carolina in recent years. They posted a 70-33 record and seven playoff appearances in Pippin's eight seasons as head coach.
“Expectations are pretty high here,” Thomas said. “Coming in (Northern Guilford) that first year, in 2010, we weren't real sure if we could win a state championship. We had some decent players, but things really fell into place for us. In 2011, we were a little bit better as a team, and I understood the defense a bit better. Then, in 2012, it all clicked and we had a phenomenal athlete in TJ Logan, who is now in Chapel Hill and will probably be the starting running back this year. We had a lot of other great football players who played hard-nosed football, and that's all we ask.”
Thomas said he has only looked at a bit of film on the North Augusta squad he is taking over, but what he has seen is positive.
“They have a lot of the same things that we had,” he said. “They have a lot of speed. They get after the football, and that's the kind of thing that we have played with the past four years.”
Thomas said that as far as scheme is concerned, he runs a zone blitz. He noted that the concept has evolved throughout the years as he has adapted to his personnel.
“Playing man coverage, and when you snap the ball and I've got maybe five kids with their backs turned to the ball chasing after receivers; that really doesn't interest me a whole lot,” he said.
With Thomas' background as a defensive coach, the question arises: What will happen with the current staff? North Augusta's defensive coordinator, Derrick Quinn, was a finalist for the job, and others on staff also applied for the position.
“That's something we are going to look into,” Thomas said. “I haven't had the chance to meet anyone yet. I've heard a lot of good things about Coach Quinn and (offensive coordinator Craig) Gilstrap. I've read a few things, and they're both very well liked. They've definitely done a good job and have won a lot of games. As I said, we haven't had the chance to sit down and talk. We haven't mapped out who will do this, who will be that and all of those things.”
Thomas was the favorite for the position last week when the top three candidates had final interviews. In spite of that status, it took some time to get to this point. Thomas said North Augusta principal John Murphy did a “thorough” job.
“He's called references and those things, and that's how it should be,” Thomas said. “You can't jump on someone because of their résumé. I respect him for what he did and it was all a process. I guess it all finalized today.”
In a release from the Aiken County Public School District, Murphy said Thomas “will be joining the North Augusta High School family on April 28 where his accomplishments and experiences are sure to continue our tradition of excellence.”
Thomas said he also hoped to get some time next week to sit down and meet Pippin and other personnel.
“He has a lot of wisdom,” Thomas said of Pippin. “I would sure like to have a part of that. I'd like to talk over football, life and things like that.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.