One week after reigning Ivy League Coach of the Year Bob Surace promoted Sean Gleeson to offensive coordinator, he promoted yet another member of his championship staff to a coordinator position. Stephen Thomas, a member of both the 2013 and 2016 Ivy championship coaching staffs, will serve as the special teams coordinator next season. Thomas will also remain in his role as inside linebackers coach.
“I am excited about moving Steve into this important role as special teams coordinator,” said Surace, a three-time finalist for FCS Head Coach of the Year honors over the last five seasons. “Steve is a detailed teacher in the classroom, and he will follow in a strong legacy of special teams coordinators here — Jim Salgado, Andrew Aurich, and Sean Gleeson — in getting our six special teams units to play with emotion, technique and aggressiveness.”
This will be Thomas’ fifth year on the Princeton staff, though he spent the 2015 season in the NFL as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles. During his time at Princeton, he has mainly worked with the linebackers, and he has coached several All-Ivy performers, including the 2016 duo of Luke Catarius and Rohan Hylton. In 2014, he coached the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Mike Zeuli.
“Coach Surace and his staff have been tremendous during my career, and with that support I will continue to approach every responsibility with 100 percent effort,” Thomas said. “I am excited and eager to continue the success of coordinating special teams at Princeton.”
Last season, the Princeton special teams unit ranked among the top half of the Ivy League in all team categories, and it was first in the Ivy League — and Top 5 in the FCS — in kickoff coverage. The unit also produced two of the biggest plays of the championship season, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown that opened the scoring in a 28-0 win over Penn, and a fumble recovery on a kickoff that helped break open the Ivy-clinching 38-21 win over Dartmouth.
Thomas will need to replace a pair of All-Ivy graduates in punter Tyler Roth and return specialist Trevor Osborne, though he returns a number of key players in all units as well. This won’t be a new challenge for Thomas, as he will also need to replace the Catarius-Hylton linebacking duo that helped Princeton rank first in the Ivy League in scoring (16.4), total (317.6) and rushing (80.1) defense.
Prior to arriving at Princeton, Thomas spent the 2011 season at Southern Miss, where he worked on the offensive side of the ball. He helped the Golden Eagles to a conference title and a Hawaii Bowl appearance while working with the offensive lineman and assisting in film breakdown, data input and scout team coordination. He also gained terrific experience on the defensive side of the ball during two years at Delaware, where he worked with both the linebackers (2009) and the secondary (2010). He helped the Blue Hens go 18-8 those two seasons, the latter of which resulted in the top-ranked scoring defense in the FCS and a berth in the national championship game.
Thomas is a 2006 graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he played defensive back and earned his degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering. He went from Buffalo to SUNY Cortland, where he began his coaching career working with the defensive secondary for two seasons. During that time, Cortland won two conference titles and reached the NCAA quarterfinal.