Brian Thornton could have coached football one more season at East Bay in an attempt to earn his 100th career win.
But the longtime Indians coach, who led the East Bay program for 17 years and coached the sport for 28, was never really about numbers like that. And he definitely wasn’t about his own glory.
“Those numbers are neat, but they’re not important,” Thornton said. “What was important to me was all the relationships with my players and my coaches. Some of my former players are some of my best friends. I loved the grind of it. We did what we could with what we had. I always had a great staff. It’s it camaraderie is what I’m going to miss.”
Thornton, a football staple at the Gibsonton high school, retired from coaching football Thursday after last season’s 1-9 campaign. He was the third longest tenured coach in Hillsborough County behind Hillsborough’s Earl Garcia and Armwood’s Sean Callahan. His career record is 97-80.
He ran an old-school Wishbone offense long past the days of its popularity, and still won games, taking the Indians to the postseason five times.
“I ran an unorthodox offense that wasn’t popular, but I was in it to win and for effectiveness,” Thornton said. “I was able to get a lot of kids to believe in that and be successful with that. I’ve gotta say that I’m very thankful for all the things that have come my way.”
A decade ago, he created the National Football Foundation High School Recruiting Fair, which every February gave countless overlooked players an opportunity to play college football.
Health problems have crept up on Thornton, who missed his first game as a head coach last season in October when he had a cardiac catheterization.
But Thornton said he’s stepping away for two main reasons – to have more time to fish and to help his son’s fledgling head coaching career. Michael Thornton, who played under his father in the mid ‘90s and was an assistant for eight years, left two years ago to become the head coach at Cypress Lake in Fort Myers.
“I’ve thought about it for a while,” Thornton said. “It’s been in the back of my mind ever since my son left and went to Fort Myers. I contemplated it last year.”
Stepping away from the sideline – even though he doesn’t rule out joining his son’s staff if the situation is right – was difficult for Thornton. His father, Les, won 192 games in 28 years as an Indiana high school coach and is in the state’s football Hall of Fame. His father died in 2007.
“It’s very emotional for me,” Thornton said. “My whole life has been football. My father coached. I grew up on the sideline as a kid. I played for my dad. He helped me put together the East Bay program. My son played for me. He coached with me for eight years.
“And if he wins six more games, there would be 300 wins between the three generations,” he added. “And that means a lot more than the 100 wins I might have gotten if I had stayed.”
-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @EddieHometeam)