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Is it time for Thomas at Pasco?

You've heard of Eastern Time, Daylight Savings Time and Prime Time?

Well, in Pasco County football it's now Thomas time. As in Ricky Thomas. Plain and simple.

Follow the logic:

When Pasco High football coach Perry Brown made his stunning announcement last Monday that he was resigning effective immediately, some may have felt that Brown did the Pirates program an injustice. He jumped ship so late in the year _ just weeks before the start of practice _ that the Pirates were left scrambling for a head coach and unsure of their upcoming season.

Still, it's hard to be critical of Brown, whose storied career included a state championship at Pasco in 1992. He said he was feeling the stress (of coaching) and was concerned about his health and family. But no one can deny that the timing of his announcement was awful. You can almost hear the critics in the crowd screaming: "How could a man who dedicated so much of his life to Pasco High football leave them high and dry?"

Well, maybe he didn't.

Enter Ricky Thomas. The buzz around Dade City is that Thomas is a prime candidate and that perhaps Brown knew that with Thomas waiting in the wings, a late July departure would not send his beloved team into a tailspin.

"Certainly, the late timing of his decision does tie our hands from this point," said Pasco principal Jackson C. Johnson Jr., who said that the position will be advertised for five days and a new head coach will be named shortly after. "With this time frame, I think it probably has to be someone who knows the players, the community and the program. It will be very difficult for someone from outside to come in so suddenly."

That might explain why so many eyes have turned to Thomas. A legendary middle school coach from the Dade City area, he seems an obvious and rational choice.

A graduate of Pasco High, Thomas has carved quite the reputation at Weightman Middle School. In the school's five-year history, he has won three conference titles, and at the end of last season he capped a meteoric rise to 100 wins with a 46-0 blowout of the River Ridge Royal Knights. As coach at Pasco Middle School, Thomas led the Pirates to six championships. Going into 1996, he has a record of 100-10.

"Well, Ricky graduated from Pasco High in 1974 and that would certainly make him a prime candidate," said Johnson, who would not identify any of the three coaches who have formerly applied for the job. "His disadvantage is that he has no varsity experience. But it's a Catch 22. You can't get a job until you get experience and you can't get experience until somebody gives you a job."

Maybe, just maybe, somebody will give Thomas the high school head coaching job that many feel he has deserved for quite some time.

The Pasco program is rich with quality athletes and solid football players. Nearly all of them have played and learned the game, at some point, under Ricky Thomas. Most of the folks at Pasco know that. Perry Brown knew that.

"Ricky has had most of these kids and most of them know him very well," said athletic director Willie Broner. "He's been in the community a long time and has earned a lot of respect."

Thomas is not a shoo-in. Middle school is not high school. And at least three coaches, all with ties to Pasco County according to Jackson, have shown interest in the job. With the number of quality players that usually come out of Dade City and surrounding areas, the applicant list is likely to keep growing.

Some around Pasco would say: Who cares?

They would remind doubters that Ricky Thomas has paid his dues. That he may be ready for the job.

The question is, "Is Pasco High ready to give him a shot?"