May 14, 2013 3:31:17 AM
CARROLLTON, Ala. -- Josh Thacker feels like he is back home.
After years of playing ball in Gordo close to his family in Fayette County, Thacker was familiar with the schools and the people in West Alabama. Thacker's travels and relationships helped him develop an intimate knowledge of the history and success of the Pickens Academy athletic program and its football team.
That comfort level with the area and the people was the driving force behind Thacker's decision to take on the challenge of building on that tradition and to become Pickens Academy's new football coach
This will be Thacker's first job as a head coach. He has worked as offensive coordinator for one year at Leroy High School. He also worked as a coach at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at Sipsey Valley High School (Ala.). He also had worked as a coach at Mississippi State University and at the University of West Alabama. Thacker graduated from Bevill State Community College (Ala.) and the University of Alabama.
"I think I just bugged coach (Brach) White enough that he had to sit down and hear me out," Thacker said. "I guess whatever I told him stuck and he offered me the job and here we are."
Thacker, 29, lives in Tuscaloosa, and will relocate to the area. He still has family in Fayette County. He told White when he was interviewing for the job that every day he had been turning east toward Birmingham. He said it felt like the right move to go west when he pulled out of his driveway to come to Pickens Academy.
"It felt like I was coming home instead of coming to work every day," Thacker said. "That was something that kind of put me at ease. When I sat down with coach White, everything was so laid back and I could tell this is a great place to work and he was a great place to work for."
Thacker, who went to high school in Fayette County, said character and energy are two things he will build on as the program's new coach. He feels his youth will help him relate to the players and to bring the character and energy out of those young men.
"(Coaching) has always been something that has piqued my brain," said Thacker, who earned a degree in History. "I always loved the ins and outs of football. I have spent time at different colleges coaching and under different coaches and the more I got to learn, the more I learned I loved it. The more intricate it got I started to enjoy it and really dove head first into it."
John Gartman led Pickens Academy (10-3) to the Alabama Independent School Association Class A title game, where it lost to Restoration Academy. The Pirates will lose 10 seniors from the state runner-up squad.
White, who is the headmaster, athletic director, and baseball coach at Pickens Academy, thanked Gartman for his work with the football program. He likes the energy and enthusiasm Thacker brings to the school after serving as offensive coordinator at Leroy High School.
"We're very excited about the upcoming football season and seeing what he has in store for us," White said. "He is going to be a good fit for the program."
Gartman, who taught at the school, will leave the school at the end of the school year. Thacker also will teach at the school, but he said he isn't sure what he will teach.
"Coach Gartman has done a good job for us," White said. "We definitely wish him the best for the future. He will make somebody a good football coach.
"I like coach Thacker's enthusiasm. I haven't seen him coach. I have seen him coach out here in the spring, but when I was interviewing, you can tell when somebody really has a passion for something. He really does (have a passion for football), and I am eager to see the results of that passion."
Thacker already has started to install his system in spring practice. He knows the football program lost key contributors from this past season, but he is confident the program will be able to continue the success Gartman helped deliver last season.
"We did lose a lot last year, but we don't rebuild here," Thacker said. "That is never a word you will hear us say. We will never rebuild. We are here to build programs. We're not here to have a varsity, junior varsity, and a pee wee program. We're here to have a family program."
Thacker acknowledges things might have to change. He knows Gartman and the Pirates had success running the Wing-T. He said he will try to have a scheme that best fits the personnel, where it is the I-formation of a five-wide receiver set.
Either way, Thacker won't settle for anything for everyone's best. He also expects everyone to invest all of their enthusiasm and energy into helping Pickens Academy football realize its potential.
"One of our mottos here is we walk through every door hard first," Thacker said. "I don't care who is in front you, what the core is, what is going on. It is all about who you are and who we are as a program and the type of dedication and men we are and that we have to be champions in everything we do."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.