Since he first the accepted the position of head football coach at San Jose State University five years ago at the age of 66, Dick Tomey has been asked how long he was going to coach. His typical answer has been that he would coach as long as San Jose State wanted him; for as long as he felt he was doing a good job; and as long as it was fun. With his team currently struggling with a 1 and 8 win-lose record, Tomey (now age 71) no longer felt he was doing a good job, and the fun had gone out of the job. So, with that in mind, he and San Jose State Athletic Director Tom Bowen worked out an agreement for Tomey to retire at the end of the current season (officially in effect on January 15, 2010). Both he and Bowen made the official announcement at an emotional press conference inside the Simpkins Stadium Center next to Spartan Stadium during Tomey's weekly Q&A with the media. Unlike the press conference held five years ago announcing Tomey's hiring, which was attended by less than 10 media representatives, Tomey's retirement press conference brought out a roomful of media, friends, fellow coaches, fans, and players. The difference in the two press conferences mirrors the change in perception and interest level of San Jose State's football program over the past five seasons that Tomey has coached the Spartans. Tomey will leave San Jose State's football program in far better shape than when he arrived in December of 2004. "It's been a magnificent experience" said Tomey. "It's maybe been the best experience of my time as a football coach."
In his opening statement, Tomey made it very clear that he is proud of what he, his staff, and his players have accomplished. "If anybody thinks this football team, our coaches and players, haven't done a terrific job, you're out of your freaking mind; because you have no idea what the challenges have been" said Tomey. "What we have here now, is a terrific football program. I have no regrets about this job and what we've done." What Tomey and his staff and players have done is remarkable, given where the program was at when he arrived. Saddled with a losing culture, poor home attendance, and one of the worst academic performances in Division 1-A, Tomey's teams managed to win the 2006 New Mexcio Bowl, tripled the home attendance, and, most importantly, improved the team's annual Academic Progress Rate (APR) by more than 100 points, with a 37 point improvement in their Multi-year score. The Spartans' graduation rate is the highest it has ever been, with 62 players earning bachelor's degrees since 2008, and three earning master's degrees. It was the poor academic performance during the time prior to Tomey's arrival that ended up playing a large role in the team's demise this season. Penalties imposed by the NCAA due to the team's low APR scores reduced the number of available scholarships by 57 over the past five years according to Tomey, which led to a lack of depth on this year's team. Coupled with a rash of injuries and a brutally tough schedule that included seven teams in the first eight games which will play in bowl games, and the stage was set for a drop-off of mammoth proportion. As Tomey said, the team was simply not physically capable of overcoming the lack of depth, especially given their tough schedule.
Rather than dwelling on negatives, Tomey chose to spend most of his time today focusing on the achievements of his senior players and his coaches. "They have won the war" said Tomey. "The war was to put this football program on solid footing. For our team, over 39 games, we had a better record than Fresno and Nevada for almost three years and two games. And that's amazing. That's not amazing for Dick Tomey. It's amazing for these players, these coaches". From the end of the 2005 season, through 2008, the Spartans recorded as 22-17 win-loss record, the third best in the Western Athletic Conference during that time span. The Spartans were bowl eligible twice (2006 and 2008), defeated Stanford for the first time since 2000, defeated San Diego State for the first time in 31 years, and, most notably, knocked off rival Fresno State for the first in 13 tries, a losing streak that dated back to 1991. "What we have here now, is a terrific football program" said Tomey. "I have no regrets about this job, and what we've done." With the improvement on the field came increased interest in the program. During Tomey's five seasons, the Spartans were on national television nine times. Prior to Tomey's arrival, it took 18 seasons for the Spartans to be televised nationally nine times.
Athletic Director Tom Bowen did not hold back in showing his emotions when addressing the gathering, expressing on behalf of San Jose State an "unbelievable, heartfelt gratitude for the incredible work that has taken place here". Bowen went on to say "under no other time has the football program had such a wonderful man, a wonderful human being, and a great coach to mold the young student-athletes that have been here. He's done an amazing job at San Jose State."
The timing of the announcement, coming with three games remaining in the season, was done so in order to avoid the same problems that the program experienced in late 2004 when Tomey replaced former head coach Fitz Hill. "The only reason that that we're doing this today is for San Jose State to hire a coach in a timely fashion unlike they did before" said Tomey. "It was too late, and it hurt the whole program." Making the announcement now will move up the time table hiring of Tomey's replacement, which will minimize the effect the change might have on recruiting. It will also allow more time for any of the coaches that are not retained by the new head coach to find new employment. It is the goal of the athletic administration to have Tomey's successor named before the end of the fall semester. "The clock is ticking for San Jose State" said Tomey. "It's ticking for our coaches and players, because things like this need to be done in a thoughtful manner, (in order) to give the coaches, who may not remain here, a chance to get other work."
Tomey does not anticipate his retiring having much of an effect on recruiting. "I think we've got some (prospects) really interested now" said Tomey. "I think all they want to know is ‘who's the next coach?' I don't think it will have a major effect. If you've got a 71 year-old coach, the recruits are not necessarily coming for the head coach anyway, because they think he's too damn old or they're not sure he's going to stay for five yours to coach them anyway."
Though it was in discussion for several weeks, Tomey's final decision to retire was made over this past weekend. Prior to his breaking the news to the players on Sunday, Tomey sat down with media guides covering the past five seasons and looked at the photos of every one of his players. "I tried to remember something good about everyone that we experienced together" said Tomey. "It was gut-wrenching, but it was fun. And I cried my eyes out." Tomey first broke the news to his seniors, sharing with them his experience of looking at all of the photos, and reminisced with them on the past five years. He then called in the rest of the team to tell them.
For Tomey, his joy in coaching has always come from his relations with the people. As he said, he likes football, but loves his players, coaches, and administrative support. Senior linebacker Justin Cole, one of Tomey's first recruits, recalled his first impression of Tomey. Thinking that Tomey was going to be a tough, hard-nosed coach, one that would be hard to get to know, Cole was immediately struck by Tomey's personal touch. "The first time I talked to him" said Cole, "he sat down and he joked around, and really got to know me as a person on my recruit trip. Compared to all the other coaches I thought that was unique. I thought that was special. We really didn't talk about football. We talked about family."
Fellow senior linebacker Travis Jones, who Tomey invited to walk-on after talking with him for all of three minutes in 2005, cited Tomey's energy. "Coach Tomey is a fire" said Jones. "He comes in here with fire almost every day. Ever single game I went into, I always felt comfortable with Coach Tomey as my coach. He's always been good at keeping us steady, keeping us with fire, and believing we can win."
The mark that Dick Tomey has made on his players over his 29 years as a head coach can me measured by the quick response to the announcement of his retirement. He spent a good portion of Monday morning receiving phone calls and text messages from former players dating back to his days at Hawaii and Arizona, as well as San Jose State. It was Tomey's goal to make all of his players better people. As he once said to Jusitn Cole "If you leave San Jose State and you're not a better person for being here, then we failed you as coaches."
Dick Tomey has been anything but a failure as a coach at San Jose State, or anywhere else for that matter. San Jose State's football program is better for having him as their head coach.
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Tomey: "It's been a magnificent experience"
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