Wiregrass Ranch taps Thomas as coach

Ricky Thomas is a familiar face in the county, having coached Pasco High seven seasons.

Published April 21, 2006

WESLEY CHAPEL - Ricky Thomas stood in the belly of one future rival and was introduced Thursday as the first varsity football coach at yet-to-be-constructed Wiregrass Ranch.

Dressed in a dark suit jacket adorning a tie soaked in the Bulls' red, silver and black, Thomas stood before administrators, media and his wife, Christina, at Wesley Chapel and explained that she helped convince him to return.

Thomas, who coached Pasco from 1996-2002, cited family as the main reason he resigned after his first varsity stint. He went 45-29 coaching his alma mater and led the Pirates to the 1998 Sunshine Athletic Conference and Class 4A, District 8 titles.

"I've got the fire back. I've got the passion back," Thomas said. "The bottom line: Ricky Thomas is back."

Thomas interviewed two weeks ago and was offered the job Wednesday. After a discussion with his wife, Thomas accepted.

"Ricky is a person who meets all of the qualities we were looking for," Wiregrass Ranch principal Ray Bonti said. "He is someone who has grown up here in Pasco County, played ball, has coached and is a teacher here. He lives in the community. His character and background is everything we hope Wiregrass Ranch will exemplify."

Thomas returned to coaching last season to walk a familiar sideline at Weightman Middle School. Thomas started that program as well. At the middle/junior high level, he compiled a record of 108-11 over a span of 17 seasons.

He has fond memories of Weightman, but deflected all questions related to his days at Pasco. He also said he had not thought about any natural rivalry Wiregrass Ranch and Pasco might develop based on their proximity.

"From the day I got in my car and left that campus I've never looked back," Thomas said. "I'm not the kind of guy to look back and say I wish I would have done this or that. I'm about the here and now. Wiregrass Ranch High School is here now and that's what I want to talk about."

The past two coaches to open programs in Pasco County were Scott Schmitz and John Castelamare. Schmitz started the River Ridge program in 1991, then began Mitchell's program in 2000.

"It's a tough job but it's rewarding because you get to put your own stamp on a program," Schmitz said. "... You have to see victories daily. That's the big thing. I can remember when we first scored or had two or three first downs in a game. That was a big thing."

Castelamare began Wesley Chapel's program in 1999.

"They're going to start just like us," Castelamare said. "We had no facilities. No gear. Our first practice was six footballs and no gear. Boys had to come from three different schools for me."

Wiregrass Ranch will play a junior varsity schedule next season and plans to hold spring football in two weeks. The team will practice behind Weightman Middle School. In terms of a staff, Thomas is in no hurry to fill any vacancies. He hopes to have his coaches in place by summer's end.

For now, Thomas is just happy to be back in coaching and eager to get his new program under way.

"Ricky's our guy," Bonti said. "... If we see that enthusiasm out on the field we're going to be really successful."

Contact Izzy Gould at 813 909-4612 or sportsjournalist@gmail.com


NAME: Ricky Donnell Thomas.

AGE: 50.

COACHING EXPERIENCE: Pasco High varsity, Hernando High junior varsity, Pasco Middle, Pasco Junior High, Weightman Middle.

RECORD: 153-40, 25 seasons.

PLAYING EXPERIENCE: Bethune-Cookman College, Pasco High.

COLLEGE DEGREE: Bethune-Cookman College (1979).

HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA: Pasco High (1974).

FAMILY: Wife Christina and children to Ricky (6), Maddi (2).

AT PASCO: Thomas went 45-29 and earned three playoff appearances. His teams won the 1998 Sunshine Athletic Conference and Class 4A, District 8 titles.

SEASON BY SEASON AT PASCO: 1996 - 8-3. 1997 - 6-4. 1998 - 11-1. 1999 - 4-6. 2000 - 4-6. 2001 - 6-4. 2002 - 6-5.


Wiregrass Ranch is the third school to open in Pasco County since 1991. Wesley Chapel, Mitchell and River Ridge were the last three schools to open and each experienced ups and downs under the guidance of their first head coach.

WESLEY CHAPEL: Opened in 1999; first varsity schedule in 1999. Coach John Castelamare. 1999 - 2-8. 2000 - 5-5. 2001 - 10-1. 2002 - 8-3. 2003 - 10-1. 2004 - 7-3. 2005 - 3-7.

MITCHELL: Opened in 2000; first varsity schedule in 2001. Coach Scott Schmitz. 2001 - 1-9. 2002 - 4-7. 2003 - 3-8. 2004 - 7-3. 2005 - 5-5.

RIVER RIDGE: Opened in 1991; first varsity schedule in 1991. Coach Scott Schmitz. 1991 - 0-10. 1992 - 3-7. 1993 - 3-7. 1994 - 6-5. 1995 - 7-4. 1996 - 7-4. 1997 - 4-6. 1998 - 6-5. 1999 - 7-3.