A health scare forced longtime Chattahoochee Valley Community College (CVCC) head coach Adam Thomas to resign over the summer. Inside Pitch caught up with Thomas, now CVCC’s Athletic Director, for an update:
Inside Pitch: Please give us an update on how your health is doing!
I am getting better every day. I was diagnosed with multiple blood clots in my lungs back in July, which ended (hopefully temporarily) my baseball coaching career. I have been on blood thinners every day and my lungs are healing slowly but surely. I am back in the office continuing in my role as athletic director and have returned to the classroom teaching orientation courses, as well as chairing our campus wide United Way campaign.
IP: I know you've relived the moments at your 43rd birthday party enough, but would you mind putting that 2-3 day span into words for our readers?
It was, without question, the scariest 48 hours of my life. Obviously, I had no idea what was going on when I couldn’t breathe properly, but when the doctors told me the problem and indicated that there was no medical explanation that I was still alive, it was the most sobering moment of my life. I spent 3 days in ICU not knowing if I would die instantly or wake up the next morning. I have a strong faith in God and my Lord, Jesus Christ and I know without question this was a wake-up call in terms of prioritizing my life and realizing that every moment on this earth is a gift. Furthermore, it put in perspective just how “unimportant” baseball really is.
IP: How has your faith helped you through the past several months?
It is the only thing that has helped me through this situation. My soul was prepared for death at the time, however, as I stated earlier, it was a wake-up call to put down the idol of coaching and success and put my entire faith and life in the hands of God. It has been a difficult transition leaving something that you truly enjoy doing in coaching and figuring out what your new day to day routine is, however I would go through this 1000 times over for what is has done with my walk with God. It has completely changed my entire mindset on what these very short 80-90 years on earth are really about.
IP: "If the blood clots dissolve, if his lungs don’t have permanent damage, and if he gets medical clearance, Thomas won’t rule out a return to coaching." Is there any time frame on that?
Again, I’ll never rule out returning to the dugout. But my life is now completely dependent on where God wants me to be. If I never coach an inning for the rest of my life, my soul is content. However, you never say never….
IP: Have you been able to get into a new routine outside of coaching? What helped with this?
The first thing my wife said when I was released to come back to work was, “Baby, you need a hobby.” For 20 years, my job was my hobby. The closest thing I had to “Adam Time” was watching Alabama football on Saturdays in the fall. The most difficult thing that I have had to do is to reorganize my afternoons. At 1:00 every day, my internal clock tells me it’s time to head to the baseball field. However, I’ve begun to work through that through prayer and becoming more involved with my church. Also, being the chair of the United Way has given me a team, so to speak, to coach at CVCC.
IP: You've said before that "You can win with good players, and you can win with good people, but when you have good players who are good people, you can do something special. How did you emphasize this with your recruiting?
This is simple. I tell myself and all of my players, either that were currently on the team or those that have graduated, where always much better recruiters than I was. If you treat people based on who they are as opposed to what their talent level is, you form a bond. When that happens, you are coaching people and not baseball. My dad told me this numerous times, “You are a good baseball coach, but what you do better than anyone I’ve ever seen is coach people.” CVCC Baseball is special. Our culture is special. That’s easy to say; I guarantee hundreds of other coaches say the same thing. But I’m telling you, there is something about playing in this program that is different. To a man, every player that came through here says if CVCC were a 4 year school, they would never leave. And I’m talking about guys that are now at major Division I schools. It’s just like anything else in life, if you treat people with love and respect, and are a Giver and not a Taker, the amount that you can achieve together is limitless.
IP: You've had a pair of former players reach the MLB so far, Chuck James and Ben Taylor. What was their recruiting process like and what was special about those guys?
Those are two of the most remarkable success stories I have had and not just because they made it to the Big Leagues. Neither guy was a high profile recruit and really did not even receive any interest from anyone. Chuck James actually came down and worked out for me as a left handed catcher and shortstop. Ha! But when I put him in the outfield to test arm strength and he threw out of the stadium, I immediately said “Pitcher”.
Ben was a pro frame with an 84 mile per hour fastball that just absolutely worked his tail off. By the time he left, he was up to 91-93 and ended up as a reliever at South Alabama pitching in the mid to upper 90s. I used those guys as examples all the time. But the truth of the matter is, most of our guys are Chucks and Bens in terms of underrecruited players with tons of ability that bought into what CVCC was selling.
IP: CV was an 8x NJCAA Academic Team of the Year under your watch. How did you balance academics with athletics at a level where academics may sometimes not be taken as seriously?
In my program, academics are taken with the utmost seriousness. We check grades weekly and give instant academic support to those that may be struggling. We simply do not have an issue with academics in this program. I call it the “Daddy Rule”. I treat the academic side of the program just as I would my own son. It’s a very simple process: Show me your grades. If they are good, keep it up. If not, why and immediate academic support. Part of our culture is academic excellence.
IP: How did you go about disciplining your players?
I have 2 rules:
1. The “Don’t be an Idiot” Rule. That pretty much covers everything that could get them in hot water.
2. The “Don’t Make Your Business My Business” Rule. This goes along with rule # 1. If a player does something that gets back to me it has to be dealt with.
However, I will go back to what I said earlier about treating people with love. The easy thing to do is rant and rave and cuss and fuss. Or even send them packing. But, in my opinion, that does no one any good. I don’t treat all of my players the same way. I treat them all fairly and discipline them based on the offense. But in the end, if they realize you are doing it because you want the best for them and out of them and that you are doing it because you care about them, it’s amazing what kind of man you see them grow into.
IP: What's one thing you actually miss with field maintenance? How about one thing you're glad you're not doing anymore?!?!
That’s easy: Cutting the grass. I always joke with my players and staff that I’m Picasso with a lawn mower. I take pride in the designs I put on my field. For that matter, I take pride in all aspects of our ballpark. One thing I definitely won’t miss is edging our warning track. Holy Cow, that’s a beast!
IP: What are your thoughts on coaches that may be considering getting into athletics administration one day?
It’s definitely a way to stay in the game without being in the game. However, every job has its positives and negatives. If you are friends with your coaches, it becomes a difficult endeavor to have tough conversations with them about something that may not be to your liking. So you definitely have to have thick skin. However, since I’ve become AD only, it’s been extremely rewarding being able to build relationships with the athletes of the teams other than just baseball.
IP: What's your advice to young coaches? Is it the same as the advice you'd give to yourself 20 years ago?
I would tell a 23-year old Adam Thomas as a first-year head coach with zero experience that the most important thing to do is to be yourself. I tried my first couple of years to be a combination of my junior college coach, my four-year coach, my dad, Bear Bryant, and Bobby Cox all into one. That leads to inconsistency as a leader. I firmly believe that if your coaching personality is the same personality when you are trying to convince a player to come to your school, things will work out the way you want. Again, coach people and not baseball. And furthermore, you better have a plan. A plan for everything. he on-field coaching is the easy part and only about 10-20% of running a program. Everyone loves coaching, but if you want to be successful, you have to be able to run a program. That’s the part I think young or new coaches have to learn – and the sooner the better. It’s just as important that little Johnny’s mom has toilet paper available in the women’s bathroom as it is that you have a good shortstop.