By Mark Rice
August 22, 2018 02:54 PM
Blood clots in his lungs forced Thomas to make this decision, he told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Thomas remains as CVCC's athletics director and will serve as a faculty member, teaching orientation classes for now.
CVCC promoted assistant coach Hunter Vick to succeed Thomas as the head coach.
Thomas leaves the program as its all-time winningest coach, with a 728-358 record. His 623-243 record since 2004, when the Alabama Community College Conference started keeping statistics online, is the best in the conference.
More than 200 of his players signed baseball scholarships with four-year institutions. Twenty-three of his players were selected in the Major League Baseball draft or signed MLB contracts as free agents. Two of his players, Chuck James and Ben Taylor, reached the majors.
While celebrating his 43rd birthday with a pool party in his backyard July 7, Thomas couldn't catch his breath. He felt OK after resting for a bit, but, as he grilled steaks that night, he again had trouble breathing.
"That time," he said, "it took longer to recover."
Nope. They were going to the emergency room. Heather had been researching his symptoms on the Internet.
Thomas recalled what the doctor told him after his scan at the Piedmont Columbus Regional Northside Campus: "You're a walking miracle. There's no medical reason you should be alive. You have more blood clots in your lungs that I can count."
The news was "a very sobering moment," Thomas said. "It was very scary. But I don't think it really hit me until later."
After four days in the hospital, including two in the intensive care unit, Thomas was sent home with medication to thin his blood.
Thomas was diagnosed with a blood-clotting disorder called protein S deficiency. His pulmonologist advised him he couldn't have an active lifestyle while still having blood clots.
No more running. No more lifting weights. No more outdoor activities.
So for Thomas, that meant no more coaching — because he isn't the type of coach who just sits on the bench.
"Could I go out there and teach? Yes, but I'm an active guy," he said. "… If I can't do the job to the best of my ability, then I'm doing my school a disservice, my players a disservice, myself a disservice and everybody who has anything to do with this program a disservice."
Thomas not only would participate in drills during practice, but the baseball coaching position at CVCC requires hours of field maintenance.
"I'm not supposed to be out in the heat now," he said. "Anything that elevates my heart rate, that could dislodge a clot. … But I feel just fine. Now, the process is to dissolve the blood clots. How long that takes? The doctors say everybody is different."
While waiting for his follow-up doctor's appointment next month, Thomas has had time to reflect on his health scare and premature departure from the baseball program.
"Now that I'm on the other side of it, you realize how close you were to potentially losing your life," he said. "It really changes your perspective and outlook on how precious the days you have are. … It's really a knock on the door of your soul. How are you, Adam, in your relationship with God? I'm a Christian man, but this is a wake-up call from God, because He could have taken my life."
Thomas envisioned coaching at his alma mater for the rest of his career in the area where he and Heather have raised their son, Owen, a freshman at CVCC.
"This was the pinnacle for me," he said.
After graduating from Smiths Station High School in 1993, Thomas was a two-year starting catcher for CVCC. He was an AJCCC All-Star in 1996 as the Pirates, coached by B.R. Johnson, won the conference title.
"This is my home," Thomas said. "This is the only job I've ever had. I just love this place. I'm so thankful to my administration that we could work this out smoothly, even though it was such a shock to everybody."
CVCC president Jackie Screws said in a news release, "Coach Thomas has served this school and this community well. Whatever role he plays, he does it with passion and focus, and we are looking forward to working with him to advance our overall athletic program."
If the blood clots dissolve, if his lungs don't have permanent damage, and if he gets medical clearance, Thomas won't rule out a return to coaching. So he remains hopeful, but leaving the baseball program before he was ready is like taking a foul tip where he wasn't protected.
"I've had a routine here for 20 years (19 as CVCC's head coach, one as an assistant), so I'm trying to figure out a new routine now," he said. "It's great leaving at 5 o'clock every afternoon, but it's tough seeing people down at the baseball field."
Even tougher was telling his players that he no longer would be their coach. Because they were dispersed during the summer, he had to share the news with them via a group text message. But when they reconvened back at CVCC, Thomas addressed them in person — through teary eyes.
"I thanked them for playing their part in a wonderful 20 years and for their parents letting me borrow their sons," he said. "To the ones I recruited but didn't get to coach, I told them I hate that it went down this way, but they're in the more-than-capable hands of Hunter."
Thomas praised Vick as the right person to be his successor, someone who has "the same values I have. He's a man of character and a dang-good coach."
Vick, who has been at CVCC for two years, previously was a volunteer assistant coach at Auburn University (2014-16). He was an assistant coach for two seasons at Central Alabama Community College, including the 2013 NJCAA national championship team, and for two seasons at East Central (Miss.) Community College, where he helped the team set a school record with a .972 fielding percentage, which was the nation's best in 2010.
After playing as an infielder at Faulkner State Community College and the University of West Florida, Vick played professionally for four seasons, including three in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, reaching Class AA in 2005.
Vick, a native of Thomasville, Ala., is married to Lauren Leigh Vick. They have a son, Cameron, and a daughter, Charleigh.
Thinking about succeeding Thomas, Vick said in CVCC's news release, "I have some big shoes to fill. Coach Thomas is more than just a coach to all of us, especially to the players. We are excited to build on the success of this program as we take it to new heights."
Of all the heights Thomas has taken the Pirates, he is most proud of his relationship with them and their families.
"The World Series lasts a week and a half, but I've got players from 15 years ago calling me and asking me how I'm doing," Thomas said. "… You can win with good players, and you can win with good people, but when you have good players who are good people, you can do something special. And we did that."
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.