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A Look Back at Coach Frank Thomas

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On Jan. 10, 1925, the University of Chattanooga (which later became UT Chattanooga) announced the hire of a new head coach, a relatively obscure Georgia assistant named Frank Thomas - a man who would later go on to become a legend of Alabama football.

Thomas had been a quarterback at Notre Dame under the legendary Knute Rockne who called him "the smartest player I ever coached." That was good enough for Georgia's George Woodruff. In 1923, he offered Thomas $2,500 a year to be his backfield coach and bring the "Notre Dame Box" to Athens.

Thomas accepted partially for the money and partially to try his hand at coaching. "I took the job to pay off my [school] debts," he said. "Besides, I wanted to try coaching for a year. If I didn't like it, I could always quit and practice law."

But it turned out he liked it quite a bit, enough to consider being a head coach when offered the chance by Chattanooga a year later. Although reportedly unimpressed with the quality of talent, he took the job as it represented his first head coaching opportunity.

He took over a squad that had won a single game the season prior and had little prospect for better in 1925. Yet Thomas led them to a 4-4 record in 1925 and then to dominance of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA).

His teams tied for the SIAA championship in 1926 and won the title in 1927 and 1928. He lost just three games in his last two seasons at Chattanooga - two of those to then-powerhouse Vanderbilt.

In 1929, Thomas returned to Georgia as an assistant under his former Notre Dame teammate Harry Mehre. His return to Athens was for a single season as Alabama's head coach Wallace Wade personally selected Thomas to succeed him at the Capstone.

Wade had taken the program to the Rose Bowl and it's first national title four years prior. He had taken the head coach position at Duke but remained at Alabama for the 1930 season and invited Thomas to join his staff to ease the transition.

It turned out to be a fateful year. Alabama went undefeated, returned to the Rose Bowl to defeat Washington State and took the national championship. Nine days later Frank Thomas took over as head coach of the Crimson Tide.

Over the next 14 years Thomas extended Alabama's tradition of dominating defenses, winning records and national championships. His teams allowed an average of just 6.3 points per game and his win percentage trails only that of his protégée and eventual successor, Paul W. Bryant.

Yet even Bryant was unable to boast never having a losing season, something Thomas achieved beginning with that first squad in Chattanooga.