CURWENSVILLE — Jim Thompson became a head varsity coach for the first time last July, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a first-time coach stepping into a situation that was tougher or more emotional than Thompson did.
That’s because he returned to Curwensville, his alma mater, to take over the reins of the Golden Tide football program after long-time head coach Andy Evanko passed away on June 5 (2019) after a lengthy battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Evanko, who was the Tide’s head head coach at the time of his death, guided the Golden Tide as head coach for 19 years, amassing a record of 150-63. Evanko served as a mentor for Thompson — a 2002 Curwensville graduate — who not only played for Evanko but also returned after his college days as a player at Juniata College to be an assistant coach for Evanko.
That put Thompson, a quarterback/defensive back in his high school days, into the coaching ranks in his mid-20s, meaning he has already coached for 13 years — 12 in football. He helped lead the Tide to a District 9 Class A title as a junior and runner-up finish his senior season.
Upon his return to Curwensville, he spent four years as a junior high football assistant before spending five years as a varsity assistant for Evanko.
It was then he made the tough decision to leave his alma mater and become the defensive coordinator at DuBois Area under head coach Justin Marshall. Those two played together on the DuBois Mountain Lions semi-pro football team started by Marshall.
Thompson held that position at DuBois, where he also was a teacher, for two years (2017-18) before returning to alma mater as new head coach and a teacher after Evanko’s passing. By hiring Thompson, the school district got a “Curwensville Guy” who knew the ins and outs of the program and the school both as a student-athlete and later a coach.
He inherited a young program that had lost a veteran senior class to graduation and featured just a handful of juniors. Curwensville went 1-8 in first year as head coach.
“It was definitely a challenge to take over the program last year, after Coach Evanko’s death,” said Thompson. “The biggest challenge was just the time crunch. I didn’t get the job until July, so that really put us behind as a team.
“However, I felt the transition was rather smooth despite the late start. Our assistant coaches and players did a great job of learning, working hard and not making excuses during a tough time. I truly believe we are better people because of last season.”
Thompson hasn’t just been a football coach though. He also has coached baseball at the at the Little League, Teener League and Junior Varsity levels and coached pee wee soccer for two years when his daughters were younger.
Thompson took the time to answer a few other questions about himself for our series spotlighting area high school coaches in all sports.
The reason I enjoy coaching is ... I love being able to help young men grow. I enjoy watching a player do things that they didn’t think that they could accomplish. I love watching a team come together and play for each other and not worrying about their own individual stats.
The hardest thing about coaching is ... just the time commitment that it requires and making sure that I carve out family time. (Thompson and his wife Courtney have two daughters and one son).
The biggest reason I continue to coach is ... I love the challenge of working with kids. I often hear people say that “kids these days” are different and I couldn’t coach “kids these days.” Honestly, I like the challenge of finding ways to coach kids from a different generation.
My real job outside coaching is ... I teach Kindergarten at Curwensville. It is hard to balance work and football at times, but being a teacher at the district that I coach is a huge help. The other big help is that my daughters go to school at Curwensville.
The person(s) who influenced me to get into coaching ... I have been blessed to have many great coaches and mentors. Some of the most influential coaches that I played for were Coach Andy Evanko and Coach Scott Holland. I played football for Coach Evanko and baseball for Scott Holland. Both coaches were no nonsense and pushed me to constantly get better. I have always considered myself a great competitor and both these coaches knew how to use my competitiveness to help me improve.
I had an opportunity to coach one year of Little League baseball with Scott Holland when I was older. It was a good learning experience to be on staff with him. I learned more about his philosophy of coaching. Coach Holland was always a huge proponent of playing with maximum effort. That is something that I expect from my players.
Coach Evanko might be the single most influential person, outside of my family, in my life. He was my position coach as a sophomore and then our head coach for my junior and senior year of high school. He was phenomenal at helping his players build confidence. I remember him telling me at practice that I was an all-state corner. That made me play better because he had the ultimate confidence in me.
He would also tell our team that he wouldn’t trade any one of us for the best player on our opponent’s team. He just constantly showed us that he loved us and that we were “his” guys. I constantly think of ways that I can show my players how much I care about them because I know how positive this has affected me as a player.
When I was on staff with Coach Evanko, I learned so much. One of the biggest things that I learned was that hard work pays off. Coach said this very often to us as players and he expected us to work hard all the time. It was not surprising that he was a hard-working coach.
When I watched, him prepare each week, he was one of the hardest working people in the state. He never left a stone unturned and always had his staff locked in and ready to prepare the team. Coach Evanko practiced what he preached and that is why it worked so well. It wasn’t just a saying. It was a standard that he lived up to each day and that set the bar for the assistant coaches and then the players.
My favorite team/season or game that stands out me is ... My favorite season was the 2000 season. I was fortunate enough to play on a lot of great teams in my career but that season was the most fun. We were really talented and won a lot of games (11-1 record, D-9 Class A champs), but the fun for me was the competition.
I had to compete every day in practice just to get on the field. I lost the QB competition in camp to Matt Harnish and I became his biggest cheerleader. I ended up fighting and clawing to return kickoffs, punts, cover kick and play DB.
We were such a physical team in practice. It was so much fun. I loved playing scout team against our starters and making plays on them. I wanted to show the coaches that I was better than some of our starters and earn more playing time.
My favorite game of all time was my senior season in 2001. We lost to Smethport in the AML Championship game (27-14) and it wasn’t really close. In the first round of the playoffs, we get a rematch with Smethport at their home field. It was a muddy mess up there. We ended up winning 7-6, but the most memorable part was that I scored both touchdowns in the game. I had our only touchdown on a scramble and rushing TD. Then, I threw a pick 6 for their only score of the game.