TAMPA — He had turned down overtures from other schools to remain at his alma mater, the only school at which he has coached. Matt Thompson, Armwood Class of 1986, seemed destined to be a Hawks lifer.
His second life began Wednesday.
A 44-year-old dad of a 9-year-old son, Thompson was formally introduced as the 20th coach in Jesuit football’s 91-year history. Wildly successful as Armwood’s defensive coordinator the last 10 years, he’ll join the school’s faculty full-time next school year.
“This is completely overwhelming for me,” said Thompson, a Marine Corps veteran and USF graduate.
“I just feel like the most fortunate man in the world. There was no other school that I would ever have left my prior school to go to other than Jesuit High School, and I’ve said that for years.”
Thompson replaces James Harrell, who stepped down last month after compiling a 29-6 record and winning two district titles in three seasons. Though details with the school were finalized only Tuesday, Thompson offered early indications of how his inaugural staff may look.
Thompson said he’ll be his own defensive coordinator, and hopes to retain some members of Harrell’s staff. Former Tigers offensive coordinator Chris Taylor, who had the same job at Armwood for 13 years, is a longtime friend and attended Wednesday’s news conference.
“I need to keep people that know the program, because I don’t know Jesuit High School. I’m the outsider coming in; I want to acclimate myself to Jesuit. It’s not going to be an Armwood thing...I need to learn Jesuit.”
Thompson spent 19 total seasons at his alma mater. During his decade as Armwood coordinator, the Hawks won three state titles (one of which was forfeited) and earned berths in two other state title games. During those 10 years, Armwood posted 40 shutouts.
"He always shot people down and was very happy with (being an assistant)," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "Jesuit obviously did a fantastic job in recruiting him. They searched him out. ... It's going to be tough for me, no question."
Jesuit principal Barry Neuburger said the search was conducted by a "small" committee comprising representatives of varying areas of the Jesuit experience.
"Matt is both a coach's coach and a player's coach," Jesuit athletic director Terry Rupp said. "Not only is he highly respected in the local coaching community, but he has also earned the respect and trust of his players."
Neuburger said the committee considered the recent smear on Armwood's program (i.e. relinquishment of the 2011 state title) before determining Thompson wasn't involved in the wrongdoings. Armwood was forced to forfeit 25 victories over two seasons and fined more than $12,000 when an FHSAA probe revealed it had used ineligible players.
"We certainly did our due diligence on that of course," Neuburger said.
"But the bottom line on that...as an assistant coach and a teacher, residence issues are not part of the fabric of their responsibilities. Those were administrative responsibilities that needed to be addressed."