VALPARAISO | It took Matt Thomas a while to realize his ultimate career goal was to be the Valparaiso boys varsity basketball coach.
"I was Skip Collins' paper boy as a kid," said Thomas, referring to the Vikings' coach from 1976 to 1989. "I never thought of being in his position as a kid even though I liked basketball."
But Thomas, 39, became a basketball coach at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in the late 1990s. An avid distance runner — Thomas won the 1999 Popcorn Panic — he brought that passion and competitive drive to the basketball court.
On Wednesday night, Thomas was approved by the Valparaiso School Board to become the Vikings' boys varsity coach. He had coached the junior varsity for the last six years, including four under Joe Otis, who accepted the girls' coaching position after the resignation of Jeanette Gray.
His approval was one of 93 personnel moves announced by assistant superintendent Jim Doane and approved by the board. Thomas was one of two who addressed the crowd.
He thanked his mentors, including Valparaiso Hall of Famer Dale Gott, and the current administration. The job was posted only for internal candidates, as Thomas was interviewed along with Brent Kimmel and Ben Lieske.
Thomas attended the meeting along with his wife, Jeanne, daughter Grace (8), son Owen (5) and his father, Dan.
"This is a humbling experience," Thomas said. "I have zero total varsity wins.
"It's a risk to hire a guy with zero varsity experience. I hope I don't let anyone down."
Athletic director Herb Hofer said he was comfortable interviewing only three candidates and choosing Thomas.
"We're very pleased to be moving Matt up to the head coaching job," Hofer said. "He's prepared unbelievably well to take over the Valpo tradition. His passion is unparallelled for the sport of basketball and Valparaiso High School.
"We had outstanding candidates within, and Matt separated himself to be the head coach. Any school could have taken any of the three so we didn't need to look anywhere else."
After coaching at Thomas Jefferson, Thomas moved up to be freshman coach under Bob Punter in the 2006-07 season. He directed that team to a 20-0 record, and followed that group up to the JV level under Chris Benedict.
Over the last eight years his teams are 146-14, a .912 winning percentage.
"I don't think I was all that great in my first years at TJ," Thomas said. "But I definitely paid my dues. I've really studied the game.
"When (principal) Reid Amones said I had the job, I watched about six or eight hours of DVDs on different offenses. I love being a student of the game. And I'm looking forward to running my own system."
Kimmel will remain as the varsity assistant, while Lieske will be the head JV coach.