Thomas has produced record-breaking players in the Big Ten and Pac-12 and has made news as a player and a coach. He has ties to UA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney -- and Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith.
Thomas coached with Chaney at Purdue. He coached for Petrino and Smith at Louisville. He played at Idaho, just after Smith finished a stint there as head coach.
"Joel Thomas has a proven record of developing running backs," said Bielema. "He excelled at the position as a player and has demonstrated a remarkable ability to connect with his student-athletes and pass his knowledge on to them. He also brings a strong background of recruiting in Texas and Dallas specifically, which is a valuable area for us to have a presence.
"I am extremely confident in Joel's ability based on his time spent working under Jim Chaney, and I believe Joel's knowledge and familiarity with Coach Chaney will be a benefit to our offense."
Thomas hit the ground running with a phone call to one of his new players. Fullback Kiero Small reached out to Thomas just after he was hired as running backs coach for the Hogs.
"I pulled up tape on the Internet last night and I just got off the phone with Kiero Small," Thomas said Monday morning. "I love the way he puts his face on people. I also like what I see on Jonathan Williams."
Thomas said he would have liked to have attracted Williams to Washington. He saw the Arkansas running back play on a Thursday night game in high school. Thomas said recruiting Texas has been a priority for him since his days at Purdue.
"When I first started recruiting in my days at Purdue, I was in Texas," Thomas said. "I think that was in '06. I went in and tried to develop relationships with high school coaches. I've maintained those contacts with some of the top coaches in that area and have tried to add new ones.
"When I took this job, I knew that was an important area to the state (of Arkansas). At Purdue, I ran into Arkansas coaches on the road there in Texas.
"It's a high priority to get on the road as soon as possible and find more players like a Jonathan Williams."
Thomas has ties to former Arkansas coaches John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino after coaching running backs at Louisiville in 2002-2003, but said he didn't reach out to either before taking the Arkansas job. He said one of his three mentors in coaching was new UA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. That was all he needed.
"I've had three mentors and Jim is one of my major three," Thomas said. "This opportunity would not have arisen if he had not been at Arkansas.
"I had met Coach Bielema a couple of times at the convention. He's a ball coach, a down to earth guy. He's going to run the ball and score points."
There were no phone calls to Smith or Petrino.
"I reached out to some friends that had been (at Arkansas), but it was mainly about talking to Jim and Bret. Those two are all I needed to commit to a decision. This was a family and personal decision I didn't call (Smith or Petrino)."
Thomas spent the last four seasons as running backs coach at Washington, coaching a 1,000-yard rusher in each, and added the title of associate head coach for offense prior to the 2012 season. Thomas also has experience as running backs coach at Purdue, Louisville and Idaho.
In 2012, Thomas tutored honorable mention All-Pac-12 running back Bishop Sankey, who ranked third in the Pac-12 and tied for 13th in the NCAA with 16 rushing touchdowns, the second-highest single-season total in school history. Sankey rushed for 1,439 yards, the third-highest single-season total in school history, and his average of 110.69 rushing yards per game was fifth in the conference.
In Thomas' final game at Washington, Sankey was named MVP of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas after he compiled a career-high 205 rushing yards, breaking the UW bowl record, as part of his 279 all-purpose yards in the game. Sankey became the seventh running back named MVP in the 21-year history of the bowl, joining a list that includes current NFL running backs Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch.
The 2011 season was another highly successful campaign for Washington running backs as Chris Polk became just the second player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and one of only seven players in Pac-12 history to reach the 4,000-yard mark for a career.
Polk ran for 1,488 yards, the second-most in the long history of UW football, and his 4,049 career yards also ranked No. 2 on the school's all-time list. Polk also broke school records for career rushing attempts with 799, career yards per game average at 101.2, career 50-plus-yard carries with six and career 100-yard games with 21. He also became the first player in school history to compile 100 or more rushing and receiving yards in the same game, as he did vs. Arizona. Polk earned first-team All-Pac-12 and honorable mention All-America honors following the season and made the Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Ball security, one of Thomas' most prominent teaching points, paid off in 2011 and 2010 as Washington running backs lost just three fumbles combined over those two seasons.
The 2010 season was highlighted by the play of Polk, whose 1,415 yards were, at the time, second-most in Washington history and ranked No. 2 in the Pac-10 Conference. Polk posted the best game of his career in the Apple Cup win over Washington State, when he ran for 284 yards, just six shy of Hall of Famer Hugh McElhenny's 59-year old single-game record.
In his first season with the Washington running backs in 2009, Thomas coached Polk to the first 1,000-yard season by a freshman in Husky history. Polk's 1,113 yards ranked seventh on the school's single-season list at the time. As a team, Washington gained an average of nearly 40 more rushing yards per game than they did in 2008.
In 2007, the Boilermakers led the Big Ten in total offense and scoring offense. In 2008, the Boilermakers set a school record for fewest fumbles in a season with 12. Also in 2008, running back Kory Sheets rushed for 1,131 yards to become Purdue's first 1,000 yard rusher in six seasons and post the fourth-highest single-season rushing total in school history.
Sheets tied the school's single-season rushing touchdowns record with 16 in 2008 and broke the career record with 48. He also ended his career second on the school's career rushing list with 3,341 yards.
Thomas was also at Purdue in 2000 and 2001, working as a graduate assistant under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. In 2000, quarterback Drew Brees led the NCAA in total offense, averaging 349.1 yards per game, and won the Maxwell Award. Tight end Tim Stratton also won the inaugural John Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end, that year as the team won the Big Ten and advanced to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 33 years.
In between stays at Purdue, Thomas served as co-offensive coordinator at Idaho in 2004-05 and as running backs coach at Louisville in 2002-03. In 2003, Louisville averaged 228.2 rushing yards per game to rank 10th in the NCAA and broke the UL record with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. The Cardinals also gained a school-record 445 rushing yards as part of 779 yards of total offense, also a school record, vs. Houston. The 2004 Idaho squad set a school record for completion percentage, and the 2005 team ranked 28th in the country in passing yards per game.
Thomas lettered at running back at Idaho from 1995-98 and still holds Vandals' career records with 3,929 rushing yards, 51 rushing touchdowns and 765 rush attempts. He was a two-time first-team All-Big West selection and rushed for 272 yards, the third-highest single-game total in school history, in a game against rival Boise State. As a senior, he was named the Big West Player of the Year and also earned the Humanitarian Award prior to the 1998 Humanitarian Bowl victory over Southern Miss. Following his senior season, he was invited to play in the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game.
Thomas was inducted into the University of Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008. He earned his bachelor's degree in public communications from Idaho in 1998. He is married to the former Ebbie Metzinger, who was a three-time Big Ten champion in the pole vault at Purdue.
The couple has one son, Teyo.
Joel Thomas Coaching History
Dec. 2012 Arkansas (Running Backs)
2012 Washington (Associate Head Coach-Offense/Running Backs)
2009-11 Washington (Running Backs)
2006-08 Purdue (Running Backs)
2004-05 Idaho (co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs)
2002-03 Louisville (Running Backs)
2000-01 Purdue (Graduate Assistant)
Birthdate: Nov. 7, 1974
Home Town: Port Angeles, Wash.
Family: Wife, Ebbie; Son, Teyo
Bowl Games: MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, 2012; Holiday Bowl, 2010; Motor City Bowl, 2007; Champs Sports Bowl, 2006; GMAC Bowl, 2003; GMAC Bowl, 2002; Sun Bowl, 2001; Rose Bowl, 2001