J-Bob Thomas loves to recruit.
For Texas Tech’s new assistant baseball coach, there’s nothing more satisfying than being on the road, meeting players, building relationships and generating excitement for a baseball program. It’s what Thomas has done the past seven years down the road at Howard College in Big Spring, and what he’ll be doing for the foreseeable future as the hitting/catchers coach for new Red Raider head coach Tim Tadlock.
“More than anything, I’ve always been a people-person and been a person who is all about relationships,” said Thomas, who has been on the job for Tech for five days and is in Cary, N.C., recruiting at the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, which spotlights the nation’s top 18-under players.
“Whether kids come to Howard or to Texas Tech, they’ll know they’ll be taken care of and have their talent developed. They’ll know we will take care of them on and off the field and in the classroom, and when they’re on the field we will do as much as we can to enhance their knowledge of the game and their skills in the game.”
Thomas is the first assistant to be named by Tadlock, who still has openings for another paid assistant, a volunteer coach and director of operations to be named.
Thomas, 29, a 2005 graduate of Abilene Christian who played two years at Howard for current head coach Britt Smith, has been instrumental in the Hawks’ dominance both in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference and the National Junior College Athletic Association over the last five years. Since 2006, Howard has been the winningest junior college program in the nation, averaging 49 wins per season that included the 2009 national championship run with a 63-1 record. That team won 57 straight to start the season.
At Tech, Thomas will be charged with working with the catchers and assisting with hitters. He worked with hitters and catchers and was also the Hawks’ recruiting coordinator the last seven seasons.
That aspect of the game is why he turned down offers the last 2-3 years to be a volunteer assistant — which is not allowed to recruit — at the Division I level, finally getting his chance about a week ago when Tadlock called and offered him a spot on his staff.
“The excitement generated by coach Tadlock since I’ve taken the job has been a lot of fun, and it’s been a lot of fun to get out here and see the 2013 and 2014 kids, the up and coming kids,” Thomas said. “It’s refreshing to see that and the excitement generated by Texas Tech baseball.”
On the field, Thomas has turned out results as well. The Hawks finished in the top five in the country in hitting in each of the last five seasons, including leading the nation in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Howard has also won the WJCAC each of the last four seasons with the help of Thomas.
Smith, himself a former Tech assistant, said Tech will be the perfect fit for Thomas’ abilities, calling Thomas a “dogged recruiter.”
“The good thing about him is he relates so well to the players, not only because he spends so much time recruiting them but also investing in them and building relationships with them,” Smith said. “That carries over once their on the field. That makes it easier for him to coach them because they trust what he does. He’s one of the best teachers of skills that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Through the years, Thomas and Tadlock have build a relationship as well. Thomas, a native of Duncanville, said Tadlock tried to recruit him as a player when Tadlock was the head coach at Grayson (1997-2005), and the two have crossed paths numerous times on the recruiting trail when Tadlock was an assistant at Oklahoma, and this past season at Tech.
Tadlock was unavailable for comment, but did say in a statement released by Tech, “J-Bob has worked extremely hard to earn this opportunity. We are very excited to add him to our coaching staff.”
As a player, Thomas was a four-year all-conference selection at catcher for both Howard and Abilene Christian. He had a .320 career batting average and helped ACU to a top 10 finish in 2004.
Thomas led Duncanville to three straight playoff appearances between 1998 and 2000. He credits much of his coaching drive to his parents, both of whom were coaches on the collegiate level.
Tech will need that drive to recover from the 2012 season that saw the Red Raiders finish last in the Big 12 Conference and nine of its top players sign after being drafted to the pros two weeks ago.
“I think the pieces are in place,” Thomas said. “The kids we have coming in, coach Tadlock and I have gone over the roster and looked at who’s returning, the players coming in from the junior college ranks and the high school ranks, and we feel we’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle there.
“This year was a tough year for everybody involved, but I think good things are right around the corner and will be right there for the taking. I know the players we have coming in feel that.”
■ NOTES: A pair of former Red Raiders were named to the American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings All-Midwest Region team on Wednesday. Juniors Barrett Barnes and Jamodrick McGruder were named to the second team from the Big 12. Both have signed professional contracts, foregoing their senior seasons.
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