There was no traditional retirement gift for Pacific basketball coach Bob Thomason. In his 25th and final season at the Stockton school, Thomason is being rewarded with a trip to the NCAA tournament.
"I'm not going to go sit in a rocking chair, anyway," he said. "The guys couldn't give me any better gift than this. It's fantastic."
At 63, Thomason decided last spring this would be his final season coaching at his alma mater. Pacific will join the West Coast Conference next fall, and Thomason believes a new coach should lead that transition.
"It's the right time," said Thomason, a Concord native who starred at Clayton Valley High. "My wife's never known me not coaching. I'm a little more worried about her than me. I can always go play golf."
In the meantime, Thomason has at least one more game to coach.
Champions of the Big West Conference, Pacific (22-12) will take on No. 2 seeded Miami (27-6) on Friday in Austin, Texas.
Thomason joked that UOP is the first 15th seed ever to play a No. 1, suggesting that any team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles deserves a higher seed than No. 2.
The Tigers are 121/2-point underdogs, but Thomason's 2004 and '05 teams won first-round games against favored opponents from the Big East Conference.
"We haven't played teams like Miami. Sometimes the size becomes so much different," said Thomason, alluding to three players 6-foot-10
"We've got to get after them, play the defense and the plan. And we have to make shots. The ball goes in the basket and people relax and you start playing your game."
More often than not over the past quarter century, Thomason has gotten his teams to play their game. He has won a school-record 436 games while rarely getting top-level talent.
"He's always been an outstanding coach," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "He understands the game, gets a ton from his kids. For him to finish up this year with a conference championship is very special."
Thomason has stayed put, content to live in a community where his grandchildren and parents are close by, and comfortable coaching at the school where he averaged 17.2 points as a senior in 1971.
"At different places you have more talent," Thomason said. "Still, coaching is getting the most out of what you have. That's my challenge. That will be my challenge Friday."