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Meet the New Orleans Saints coaches: Joel Thomas

Thomas is entering his ninth season with New Orleans


Joel Thomas enters his ninth season as the Saints running backs coach after 16 years of coaching in the college ranks. Since arriving in 2015, the club has led the league with 148 rushing touchdowns. Thomas' running backs have registered 25 individual 100-yard performances since 2015.

Under Thomas' tutelage, Alvin Kamara has earned five Pro Bowl selections as the only player in the NFL to have at least 1,300 total yards from scrimmage in each of the last six seasons, three of them 1,500 or more. Since his debut in 2017, Kamara's one of only two players in the NFL with at least 8,500 yards from scrimmage and at least 70 touchdowns, tied for the franchise lead by reaching the end zone 72 times.

In his eighth season in New Orleans, Thomas tutored Kamara to his sixth straight season with at least 1,300 yards from scrimmage (1,387). He became the first Saint to lead the team in rushing five consecutive seasons, carrying 223 times for 897 yards, while ranking second on the team in receiving with 57 grabs for 490 yards. Kamara moved into a tie for first place in club record books in total touchdowns (72) and rushing touchdowns (49). Kamara also moved into second place in club record books in total yards from scrimmage (8,888), third place with 5,135 career rushing yards and fifth place with 430 receptions. Mark Ingram II added to his totals as the franchise's all-time rushing leader (6,500) and is only the third player in club records with 8,300 yards from scrimmage (8,304).

In 2021, Thomas tutored Kamara to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl campaign, as he led the team in both rushing and receiving despite missing four games, carrying 240 times for 898 yards with four touchdowns and catching 47 passes for 439 yards and five scores. Kamara had three 100-yard rushing games for the first time and his 102.8 scrimmage yards per game ranked fifth in the NFL. Kamara finished the season with 4,238 career rushing yards, moving into fourth place in club record books. After being re-acquired by the Saints at midseason, Ingram became the franchise's all-time rushing leader.

In 2020, Thomas oversaw the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing attack. New Orleans led the league with a club-record 30 touchdowns on the ground, tied for the NFL's sixth-highest total all-time. Kamara, selected to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, shattered the team record and led the NFL with 21 touchdowns, ranking second with 93 first downs and third with a career-best 1,688 total yards from scrimmage. In addition to running for a career-high 932 yards on 187 carries (5.0 avg.), Kamara led NFL running backs in receiving with a team-best and career-high 83 grabs for 756 yards and five touchdowns, as he became only the second Saint to lead the team in rushing and receiving in the same season. Latavius Murray served as a solid complement to Kamara in the running game, carrying 146 times for 656 yards (4.5 avg.) with four touchdowns.

The 2019 season was a success for Thomas as the backfield was headlined by Kamara and newcomer Murray. Under Thomas' watch, Kamara became the first Saint to have three consecutive seasons of at least 1,300 total yards from scrimmage in his first three seasons and only the second to do so in three consecutive campaigns. Kamara became the only Black and Gold running back selected to three Pro Bowls and the only Saint to be selected in each of his first three campaigns. New Orleans also received significant offensive contributions from Murray, who accounted for 872 total yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

In 2018, the Saints were ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing (126.6 ypg.). Kamara had a standout sophomore campaign, as he rushed 194 times for a club best 883 yards (4.6 avg.) with 14 touchdowns. He also caught 81 receptions for 709 yards with four scores for a 1,589 total yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns. Ingram rushed 138 times for 645 yards (4.7 avg.) with six touchdowns in 12 games.

In 2017, the duo of Ingram and rookie Kamara produced standout seasons, with both being selected to the Pro Bowl. Ingram appeared in all 16 games for the second consecutive season and led the team with a career-high 1,124 yards rushing and a career-best 12 touchdowns on 230 carries, a 4.9-yard average per attempt. He added a career-high 58 receptions for 416 yards for a career-high 1,540 yards from scrimmage. Kamara set a league record for rookie running backs with 826 receiving yards on 81 receptions and five touchdowns, while he led the NFL by averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 120 carries for 728 yards with eight touchdowns. He led the club with 1,554 total yards from scrimmage and was selected by the Associated Press as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and as a second-team All-Pro at the Flex position. The 3,094 combined total yards from scrimmage from Ingram and Kamara was the second-most by an NFL running back duo since the start of a 16-game season in 1978.

Under Thomas' tutelage in 2016, Ingram became the first Saint to record 1,000 yards rushing in a single season since Deuce McAllister (2006). He accumulated 1,043 yards on 205 rushing attempts (5.1 avg.) with six touchdowns and 319 yards on 46 receptions with four touchdowns for 1,362 total yards from scrimmage. His 5.1 yards per carry ranked third in the NFL among rushers with at least 200 carries. Tim Hightower also enjoyed a productive season under Thomas, with his 548 rushing yards marking his most since 2010 and his 200 yards receiving marking his most since 2009.

In 2015, Thomas tutored Ingram who had a team-best 1,074 total yards from scrimmage, despite missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Overall, he carried 166 times for a team-best 769 yards (4.6 avg.) with six touchdowns and added 50 receptions for 405 yards. After Ingram was sidelined, Thomas prepared Hightower to play after he had missed the previous three seasons and he gained 454 total yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the final four contests.

Thomas lettered at running back at the University of Idaho from 1993-98, where he 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 rushing attempts. He was inducted into the University of Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and into the North Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame in 2022. Thomas earned his bachelor's degree in public communications in 1998.

PLAYING CAREER: Idaho, 1993-98.

Joel Thomas coaching career

Table inside Article
Team Position Held Years
Purdue (College) Graduate assistant 2000-01
Louisville (College) Running backs coach 2002-03
Idaho (College) Co-offensive coordinator & Running Backs Coach 2004-05
Purdue (College) Running backs coach 2006-08
Washington (College) Running backs coach 2009-11
Washington (College) Associate head coach for offense & running backs coach 2012
Arkansas (College) Running backs coach 2013-14
New Orleans Saints (NFL) Running backs coach 2015-present

New Orleans Saints rookies for the upcoming 2023 NFL season tour the city of New Orleans for the second time as they enjoy some down time ahead of Saints Training Camp.

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