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TURTLE THOMAS BIO:
FIU began a new era on June 14, 2007 with the hiring of arguably the top assistant coach and recruiter in all of college baseball. It was a day more than three decades in the making for a man who honed his skills at some of college baseball's elite programs, bringing them 19-consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, 14 College World Series appearances and two national championships.
It was a day Henry "Turtle" Thomas patiently waited for and rightfully earned.
"After 30 years of coaching college baseball, I'm very excited to lead the FIU baseball program," Thomas said. "I'm very appreciative of former (FIU) President Mitch Maidique and Athletic Director Pete Garcia, that those two gentlemen have given me this opportunity. We look forward to making the FIU community excited about baseball again and we're looking forward to the challenge."
The FIU community couldn't be more excited as Thomas enters his sixth season at the helm of the Panthers' baseball team. In five seasons, Thomas took FIU to its first Sun Belt Conference championship since 1999 and two NCAA Regional appearances, his first as a head coach. Thomas' squad hit a conference leading .337 in 2010, good enough for 16th in the country. He also mentored infielder Garrett Wittels who improved his batting average a whopping .166 points from .246 his freshman year to .412 as a sophomore. Wittels gained notoriety his sophomore season for hitting in an incredible 56-straight games, the second-longest hitting streak in Division I baseball history behind former Major Leaguer, Robin Ventura, who hit safely in 58-straight games in 1987. Wittels went on to win SBC Player of the Year, was named to numerous All-American teams and was even nominated for an ESPY award for Male Best Collegiate Athlete.
Thomas oversaw a staff which saw two of his 2011 signees taken in the first round of the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft. Shortstop Manny Machado was taken third overall by the Baltimore Orioles while catcher Kellin Deglan was taken 21st overall by the Texas Rangers. This marked the first time a school recruited top rated position players in their respective country's (Machado, USA; Deglan, Canada). In all, His recruits for the 2011 season signed MLB contracts for over $6 million dollars combined. In addition, FIU was the only Florida school to have two recruits taken in the first round of the 2010 draft. Florida, Florida State and Miami each had one signee taken in the first round. LSU led the way with three, followed by FIU and Georgia Tech with two apiece.
During his tenure at FIU, Thomas has seen 10 of his players drafted and numerous others sign free agent contracts.
Also very active in the community, Thomas served as the honorary chair for the Arthritis Foundation “Let’s Move Together” Walk in 2012.
“It’s a great honor to be named co-chair for such a great cause,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to participating with the FIU community and raising awareness for the Arthritis Foundation.”
Fundraising is in Thomas’ blood as he heads the annual FIU Baseball “Diamond Dinner” to raise money for the baseball and softball teams. The star-studded event raised a record $300,000 in 2011 and 2012 combined. The gala attracts some of baseballs finest with guest speakers such as “Sweet” Lou Pinella and former World Series Champions and Managers of the Year Buck Showalter and Jack McKeon.
In his first semester overseeing the program, 19 players earned a 3.0 grade-point average or better, including four on the Dean's List. The effort and work ethic Thomas helped instill on the field was transferred to the classroom, resulting in a combined team GPA of 3.04, a first in the program's history.
Thomas' first full recruiting class was ranked 15th in the nation by Perfect Game Crosschecker. Since his arrival, Thomas and his staff have made numerous improvements to the baseball stadium and its facilities. One of the biggest improvements to the stadium was a $75,000 project to pad the outfield wall and decorate it with decals honoring the four retired numbers in FIU Baseball history. In 2011, FIU Baseball Stadium sported brand new infield grass and dirt, replacing the 37-year old playing surface.
On the field, the product also improved over the first three seasons. As a team, the Panthers hit .305 in Turtles' first season, .324 in his second and .337 in his third. From 2008 to 2009, Turtles' club improved by 14 wins from 20 in 2008 to 34 in 2009, the biggest turnaround in the program's storied history.
Some of the most-successful programs in college baseball's recent history grace Thomas' resume, including Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Louisiana State and his most recent stop, at 2007 CWS participant Arizona State.
"We are very fortunate to be able to hire a coach as talented as Turtle Thomas," Garcia said. "He knows the game, he's the best recruiter in the country and he knows South Florida. He will bring excitement and interest to FIU baseball. The journey to Omaha begins today."
It's a journey that Thomas has made on 14 occasions at four different schools. He has coached in more College World Series than any active head coach.
Thomas' goals for FIU are twofold: To get the community involved and to win, on the field and in the classroom. Simple tasks, you ask? No. But the untiring work ethic that belies his placid demeanor assures that he will accomplish his goals. He is committed to getting the job done.
He opened the doors of FIU Baseball Stadium on January 18, 2007 for the Tamiami Park Little League Opening Ceremonies and addressed thousands of kids on the 128 teams, and their parents, inviting them to become a part of the FIU Baseball Family.
"FIU is hiring the hardest-working coach I've ever been around," former Arizona State Head Coach Pat Murphy said. "He's relentless and he's a good person. He is a legend in college baseball for his recruiting efforts and great coaching at winning programs. Everything Turtle Thomas is around turns to gold. I feel FIU will be as good a program as they've ever been with him there and will reach new heights."
Thomas played a major role in the Sun Devils' success in the 2007 season, helping lead the team to a No. 3 National Ranking. The Sun Devils ended the season with the nation's third-best team batting average (.345) and slugging percentage (.531), and ranked second in scoring (9.4/game). ASU also led the country in fielding percentage (.979).
Prior to helping ASU return to Omaha, Thomas served as recruiting coordinator and hitting coach at LSU from 2000-06, winning a national title with the Tigers his first year on the job.
"Pete Garcia has made a great choice in Turtle Thomas," said legendary college baseball coach and current LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman. "He is tremendous as a one-on-one coach. It can't be a coincidence that Turtle left a championship program like Miami and came to LSU the next year and helped us win a championship. Turtle will be a winner. There is no doubt about that."
The Tigers went to the CWS two more times during Thomas' tenure (2003 and 2004) and he oversaw impressive offensive and individual performances.
Catcher Brad Cresse led the nation in home runs (30) and RBI (106) on his way to winning the Johnny Bench Award in 2000. That same year, Mike Fontenot was named SEC Freshman of the Year, helping LSU set SEC records for hits and doubles, and a school-record .340 batting average. Shortstop Aaron Hill was named the 2003 SEC Player of the Year and outfielder Jon Zeringue won the honor the following season.
In 2004, LSU led the SEC in seven offensive categories, including average (.333) and on-base percentage (.400). Overall, LSU led the SEC in hits, runs and RBI in four of Thomas' seven years in Baton Rouge.
In 1988 he was named assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Miami by Hall of Fame coach Ron Fraser. The Hurricanes reached the CWS nine times in Thomas' 12 years in Coral Gables, winning a National Championship in 1999, and going to Omaha six-straight seasons (1994-99). From 1996-98, UM posted a collective .334 batting average, .557 slugging percentage and scored more than nine runs per game. The 1996 Hurricanes set a school record with a team batting average of .343.
"You have a great guy in Turtle Thomas," the legendary Fraser said. "He can recruit and he knows where to find the best guys. He can coach and he is such a hard worker. This is great for FIU and they are lucky to have him. He helped our program at Miami so much when he was there."
Thomas began his Division I coaching career at Clemson, where he spent eight seasons and helped the Tigers reach the 1980 CWS. He moved on to Georgia Tech and spent two years as the assistant head coach under current Miami head coach Jim Morris before heading to Coral Gables.
While his experience and expertise as a coach are impressive, Thomas' skills as a recruiter are unmatched. He had 19-straight recruiting classes ranked among Collegiate Baseball's Top 10 at Miami and LSU. He was the only recruiting coordinator in the nation who has signed the No. 1 rated class four times, and he has never had a class rated lower than ninth over the past 19 years. Thomas has also signed the second-rated class four times. Every class he signed at LSU ranked in the Top 6, including his 2004 class, which was considered the best in the country.
The roll call of major leaguers Thomas recruited and coached numbers more than 60. The list includes Charles Johnson, Alex Fernandez, Pat Burrell, Danny Graves, Alex Cora, Aubrey Huff, Aaron Hill, Mike Fontenot, Jason Michaels and Brad Hawpe. He also signed MLB All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Larry "Chipper" Jones to letters of intent to Miami. Both players were eventually drafted No. 1 overall.
A 1975 graduate of High Point (N.C.) College, Thomas earned a master's degree from UNC-Greensboro in 1978. He was a four-year letterman at catcher, playing two seasons at Campbell University before completing his final two undergraduate years at High Point.
Thomas is married to the former Maria Carmen Nateman, and they have three children, Kevin, Kristen and Keith