Faith. Family. Friends. Football.
Those were the pillars of Jamie Thompson’s life long before he recently heard former Asheville High coach Danny Wilkins talk about the “four Fs.” Not just the kind of beliefs to give lip service to when convenient, either, but the foundation of everything Thompson does, the principles that quietly guide his life every day.
Thompson is teaching without a planning period this semester to help cover for an injured colleague. He stepped up to coach Polk County’s softball program in part to serve as a mentor for first-year assistant Jamie Hrobak. He has routinely conducted media interviews at times when he preferred not to talk because it gave him an opportunity to praise his players and coaches. His postgame prayers are not automatic recitations of the Lord’s Prayer but heartfelt devotions born from his faith and delivered from his soul.
Faith. Family. Friends. Football. Tenets that not only help shape the man, but serve daily as his North Star and life’s compass.
They also help explain the extraordinary decision that Thompson made to ask close friend Bruce Ollis to return to Polk County’s football staff not as an assistant, but once again as the Wolverines’ head coach, to resume the partnership the two had prior to Ollis leaving in 2014 for T.L. Hanna with Ollis leading the program and Thompson serving as his defensive coordinator and top assistant.
Polk County’s head coach since Ollis’ departure, Thompson is one of only three head coaches in the program’s history to own a career winning percentage above .500, led the Wolverines to the state 2A playoffs in each of his three seasons and nearly won a Western Highlands Conference title in his first year.
This isn’t a case of a coach moving aside due to a lack of success. Rather, it’s a man who stepped back, looked at the bigger picture and saw an opportunity to reunite a partnership that served Polk County well.
“When Bruce left and went to T.L. Hanna, he joked and once said that ‘if this doesn’t work out, I’m going to come back and be your offensive coordinator,'” Thompson said. “We’re still close. We’ve talked weekly since he left. I knew the opportunity was coming up where he could come back.
“When you look at the numbers at Bruce Ollis with Jamie Thompson and Bruce Ollis without Jamie Thompson and Jamie Thompson with Bruce Ollis and Jamie Thompson without Bruce Ollis, apart, we’re about .500. Together, we averaged about 10 wins a season. We make a great team.”
When in Polk County, Ollis would routinely talk about Thompson’s value atop the press box, surveying the opposition during games, noting he could often predict an opponent’s play well before the actual snap. As the Wolverines’ head coach, it wasn’t unusual on the sidelines to see and hear Thompson do the same, shouts of “they’re going to run the sweep” coming just before an opponent did exactly that.
But it’s much harder to see the field, to draw those insights, at ground level, especially when you’re the captain of the ship and responsible for more than just changing course. Thus as the opportunity for a reunion became increasingly real, Thompson knew how to best make it work.
“When we first started talking about this, it was about him coming back and being the offensive coordinator,” Thompson said. “The more I thought about it, what I’m best at is being up top on the press box. I don’t think I did a bad job running the offense, but I’m pretty dadgum good on the defensive side. As all of this played out in my mind, for this to work best we needed to go back to the way it was.
“We could have made it work with me as the head coach and Bruce as the offensive coordinator. The problem is, you don’t want your head coach on top of the press box. So that was one thing that steered me in this direction. Another thing is the fact of trying to harness that enthusiasm we had before Bruce left. There is a blueprint that we had, and it works.
“To me, I don’t care who gets the credit. I want what is best for the program and best for the players.”
The selflessness of Thompson’s decision, the utter lack of ego involved, hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Very few head coaches would be willing to make the decision to assume a former role as an assistant coach,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene, who has known Thompson throughout his career. “Coach Thompson always puts the success of our student-athletes and programs first, and his actions evidence the type of selflessness and dedication we hope to instill in the young people we serve.”
“He has sacrificed a great deal in order to see that our athletes have the best possible experience in our football program,” said Polk County Principal Brandon Schweitzer. “True to fashion, he continues to put our students above himself. It was an honor to have Coach Thompson serve as our head football coach for the past three years and we are humbled by the example he sets for our students every day.”
Thompson didn’t graduate from Polk County High or one of its predecessors, but he has put down roots here, has come to see the community as his home. His three children attend school in Polk County. His wife, Amber, coached Polk County’s girls junior varsity basketball team this season. The Thompsons bleed blue and white as much as anyone.
Those three kids – Trey, Tori and Tali – have been common sights around Polk County practices and games throughout his career. They also played a role in his decision.
“I’ve got three kids who are of school age and all play sports,” Thompson said. “Bruce is an empty nester. He has some time on his hands. This way, he has more freedom to work more hours than I do.
“It’s a tightrope you have to walk as an educator and as a coach. You want to be able to give your players the best opportunities and best advantages. At the same time, as a husband and a father, you want to give your family the time they deserve.”
Thompson’s goals for Polk County’s football program haven’t changed. He wants to see more conference championship banners filling Polk County’s field house. He wants to see a state football crown added to the wall of champions in the school gym.
He will continue to work every day to make that happen.
“As a man of faith, I believe everything happens for a reason,” Thompson said. “This is one of those deals the Lord has willed to happen. Everything has pointed to this direction. I’m going to trust what I think God is telling me to do and go with it.
“No matter who is the head coach, things will probably be the same about the program. One thing that is going to be different is that I’ve become a better coach over the course of the last three years. When next season starts, that should be evident. It’s not just going to be Bruce Ollis and Jamie Thompson together again, it’s going to be a new and improved Jamie Thompson.”
Faith. Family. Friends. Football.
The job title may change.
The foundation never does.