GHS coach Thomson leaving for DeLand

In this Dec. 15, 2012 file photo, Gainesville Hurricanes head coach James Thomson works during the first half of the 6A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.

After leading Gainesville High's football program to a 25-3 record in two years, including its first state final in 32 years, James Thomson resigned as coach Thursday to take the same position at DeLand.

It is a similar move as his predecessor and friend, Ryan Smith, who also left Gainesville for the Volusia County school after three years.

“It has been a real tough decision,” said Thomson, 30. “It was probably the most difficult decision I've had to make. I decided this morning. I didn't want to steal the thunder from the kids signing yesterday.”

Thomson replaced Smith in March 2011 and had immediate success the following season, reaching the Class 6A regional semifinals before losing at Seffner Armwood, 17-14. That loss was later declared a forfeit when Armwood, the state champion that season, violated FHSAA rules by using an ineligible player.

The Hurricanes used the disappointment of that loss as motivation going into the 2012 season and marched through the regular season undefeated. They avenged 2011 losses to Ocala Vanguard and Madison County, and played perhaps the game of the season at Navarre in the 6A regional finals, winning convincingly, 62-26.

On Wednesday, Thomson celebrated with parents, relatives and fellow students the signings of wide receiver Chris Thompson (Florida), linebacker Keith Kelsey (Louisville), running back Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt) and wide receiver Case Harrison, a preferred walk-on at UF, at GHS auditorium.

“They made me proud,” he said. “Going to the state championship made me proud. I was always proud to be at GHS and will always be a Purple Hurricane.

“The players have been unbelievable. Everyone is sad, but they understand. I love those kids.”

Cindy Boulware, Hurricane athletic director, said she had a feeling this day was coming considering Thomson rejected several offers a year ago.

“James was heavily recruited last year and chose to stay with us another year,” she said. “We were certainly glad he did. He did such a good job in returning a bunch of pride out of our football team and the community with the team doing so well. I did kind of knew it was coming, but when it did it was still a shock.”

She said the job will be posted on the FHSAA website and expects between 130-150 applications. The school is hoping to fill the position before spring break (before March 25).

Thomson was an assistant coach at Orlando Jones and Edgewater from 2004-2009 and head coach at Cornerstone Charter Academy in Orlando for one season before accepting the job at Gainesville. At Cornerstone he coached mainly junior varsity players, so GHS was truly his first real varsity head coaching opportunity.

“We are sad, we are really fond of James here,” Boulware said. “He has done a really good job. He set the bar high. We can't replace him, we are going to look for somebody to carry on where we are at as a program.

“I told him he should leave from here with his head high. He has done a lot in his short tenure here. We can't blame him from striking while the iron is hot. He needs to do what is best for himself, and we understand that.”

Thomson said he will be leaving within two weeks for DeLand, an 8A program that went 6-5 this past season under interim coach Al Manning and lost in the first round of playoffs. Smith left DeLand after one season for personal reasons and returned to his hometown of Perry to coach Taylor County.

“It is special here at GHS,” Thomson said. “It feels good that I left it better than when I found it. We did it good, we did it the right way.”

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