The man who has been the face of Pacific basketball for the past quarter century has opted to step aside and let someone else lead the Tigers into their new era.
Bob Thomason, who has led Pacific to four NCAA tournament appearances and six Big West championships in his 24-year coaching tenure, announced Monday he will retire after the 2012-13 season. That season will be the Tigers' last in the Big West before they move to the West Coast Conference.
"With us going to the WCC, I just think it's the right time to let a new coach lead the team," Thomason said Monday night. "I'll have 25 years of coaching here. I've really enjoyed every moment. I love the university. I have a team next season I think can compete for the Big West. We have nine guys back the following year, so I'll leave the new coach a team. I just think it's the right time."
That Thomason is ready to turn over the keys to the program to another coach is a good for both sides because the timing truly couldn't be better.
Pacific contended for the Big West crown consistently for more than a decade in the 1990s and 2000s, but the program slipped toward the middle of the league in recent years. The Tigers suffered through a 19-loss season a year ago after the top 10 scorers from the previous team departed, sparking criticism about Thomason's commitment to recruiting and ability to retain players.
Thomason's contract was up at the end of next season, but he insists that did not impact his decision to retire. He did acknowledge, however, that he made the announcement now rather than after next season to ensure his status did not become a distraction.
"I didn't want people asking, 'Is coach going to be back next year? Are they renewing his contract?' Thomason said. "That had nothing to do with anything. It's not like I told (athletic director Ted Leland) I wanted a couple more years. I didn't want that. I wanted to let people know, let the players know and then let's go play basketball."
What's most exciting for Thomason is he thinks Pacific can contend in its final year in a league that figures to be weaker at the top with Long Beach State and Santa Barbara losing their best players to graduation. Pacific's roster returns virtually intact and it adds some newcomers who can provide much-needed depth, a combination Thomason believes gives the Tigers a chance to win the league.
Regardless of how Pacific fares in Thomason's final year, his legacy is intact. He'll long be revered in Stockton for his principled, old-school approach to coaching, his 96 percent graduation rate, his contributions in the community and of course the success his program had throughout most of his tenure.
In 2004 and 2005, Pacific won a total of 52 games including a pair of opening-round NCAA tournament games, becoming the first Big West team since 1993 to notch victories in March Madness in back-to-back years. Thomason won Big West coach of the year honors five times in his career and produced No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Michael Olowokandi.
"I competed hard, I coached hard and for the most part we got the most out of players," Thomason said. "I'm really proud of winning 16 games in a row three times and 22 games in a row once. I'm really proud of winning NCAA tournament games in back-to-back years. You just don't see that happening in the Big West very often anymore."
The toughest part of retiring for Thomason? Figuring out what he's going to do with all the newfound free time.
"I played organized basketball or coached it since the fourth grade, so that's 55 years I've been doing this," Thomason said with a chuckle. "People ask me how am I going to do it? I guess we'll see."