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Louis Thompson is the stuff legends are made of, from his time playing for Coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama where he was on two national championship teams to his years on the football field at Lincoln County High School where he lead the Falcons to two state championships.
The coach, who has also served as vice principal and athletic director at LCHS since 2003, hung up his whistle as head coach of the Falcons after the 2010 football season, though last fall he got a chance to return to the program as coach of the offensive line.
It was “can’t miss” opportunity, given the fact that he would be able to coach the oldest of his four grandchildren, Riley, in both his and his grandson’s final year at LCHS.
Now, after 44 years of doing what he loves, Coach T is retiring for good.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to coach a lot of great kids and even some of their children,” he says. “That’s really meant a lot, to be able to work with so many fine young men, and then of course, it was particularly meaningful for me to coach Riley. I’m really proud of him; he’s a smart and fine young man.”
Riley will be taking his final walk on the football field at LCHS Friday night when he graduates as valedictorian of the Class of 2013. It is sure to be especially meaningful for him, considering that his final walk will be in a stadium named for his father.
The Pit, as it was called for years, was named Meadows-Thompson Stadium at the start of the 2011 season, honoring Thompson and his predecessor, Coach John Meadows, another legend in the annals of Lincoln County football.
“Not only have I had the chance to work with some great kids, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful administrators,” says Thompson. “The principals I’ve worked for here are Jim Stewart, who I was with the longest, Neale Hanes, Paulette McCown, and most recently, Jacob Sorrells. I’ve also been worked under three superintendents, Jimmy Buchanan, Stan Golden and now Dr. Wanda Shelton.
“They’re all great people,” he continues. “Plus I’ve had the good fortune of working with some great coaches over the years … It’s has been a very good 24 years of working in Lincoln County.”
Coach T graduated from Lebanon High School and spent his college career playing for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, winning national championships in 1964 and 1965.
He started out his coaching career at Dadeville High School, going on to coach at Lebanon, Austin Peay State University and Unicoi County prior to coming to LCHS where he would take the Falcons to their second and third state championships in 1990 and 1993. Altogether, he took the Falcons to playoff appearances in 20 of his 22 years at their helm.
He served as president of the Tennessee Athletic Coaches Association in 1990 and was head coach of the Tennessee-Kentucky All-Star game in 1991. In 2003, he was assistant coach for the East-West Shrine Bowl All Star Classic. Then in 2005, Thompson was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame.
“Our schools have changed a great deal in my time,” he said. “There are increased demands as far as scores and graduation rates, and that’s probably for the good. The advancements made in technology are just amazing, and that’s probably for the good as well.
“The kids themselves are still the same,” he says. “Most of them are great kids, and some have some real challenges.”
Thompson gained his final honor last week with the dedication of the LCHS yearbook to him and two other educators, Gary Parke, and the late Clair Telford.
“Maybe more than anything I want to thank my wife, Peggy, and my family for all their support over the years,” Thompson adds. “They’ve really stood by me, and I appreciate it.”
Peggy, a longtime teacher here, retired two years ago. Their three children are Angie Mullins, who is also a teacher here, Jay, a coach and teacher in Dothan, Ala., and Taylor, an office manager in Franklin.
Angie’s four children — the Thompson’s grandchildren — include, in addition to Riley, 12-year-old Will and the twins, 10-year-olds Carlie and Claire.
“I don’t have plans,” the coach adds. “On May 17 I’m going to retire, and then I’m wide open … Maybe I’ll do a little volunteer work, play some golf, hunt turkeys and deer, and probably, Peggy and I will do a little traveling.”