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Joel Thomas
Running Backs

Joel Thomas enters his second season as the Saints running backs coach after 15 years of coaching in the college ranks.

Joel Thomas enters his second season as the Saints running backs coach after 15 years of coaching in the college ranks.

In 2015, Thomas tutored Mark Ingram who set a new career-high with a team-best 1,074 total yards from scrimmage, despite missing the last four games with a season-ending shoulder injury. Overall, Ingram carried 166 times for a team-best 769 yards (4.6 avg.) with six touchdowns and set a receiving career-high with 50 receptions for 405 yards. After Ingram was sidelined, Thomas prepared Tim Hightower, who had missed the previous three seasons into duty and he gained 454 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the final four contests.

Thomas came to New Orleans following a two-year stint in the same position at the University of Arkansas from 2013-14. In two seasons under his tutelage, Razorbacks running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins both blossomed. In 2014, they were the only pair of FBS teammates to rush for 1,000-plus yards. The duo became just the second pair of Razorbacks to accomplish the feat. Collins became just the second player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013.

Thomas spent the four previous seasons (2009-12) 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 campaign. In his last season in Seattle, Thomas tutored All-Pac-12 running back Bishop Sankey, a second round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2014, 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.

Thomas also has experience as running backs coach at Purdue (2006-08), Idaho (2004-05) and Louisville (2002-03).

In 2007, the Boilermakers led the Big Ten in total offense and scoring offense. In 2008, they set a school record for fewest fumbles in a season with 12 and running back Kory Sheets rushed for 1,131 yards to become Purdue’s first 1,000 yard rusher in six seasons while posting the fourth-highest single-season rushing total in school history, ending his career second on the school’s career rushing list with 3,341 yards. Sheets tied the school’s single-season rushing touchdowns record with 16 in 2008 and broke the career record with 48. He was also at Purdue in 2000 and 2001, working as an offensive graduate assistant. In 2000, Saints quarterback Drew Brees led the NCAA in total offense and won the Maxwell Award as the Boilermakers 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 with a school-record 5.7 yards per carry average. 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 also gained NFL experience from two training camp internships, serving one with the Saints in 2012 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.

Thomas lettered at running back at Idaho from 1993-98, was a two-time, first-team All-Big West selection and conference Player of the Year as a senior and still holds Vandals career records with 3,929 rushing yards, 51 rushing touchdowns and 765 rush attempts. He was inducted into the University of Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and earned his bachelor’s degree in public communications in 1998.

PLAYING CAREER: Idaho, 1993-98.

COACHING CAREER: Purdue, 2000-01; Louisville, 2002-03; Idaho, 2004-05; Purdue, 2006-08; Washington, 2009-12; Arkansas, 2013-14; New Orleans Saints, 2015-.


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