Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011 | 8:15 a.m.
James Thurman couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Thurman, a longtime assistant football coach at perennial power Las Vegas High, was approached late last week by Wildcats head coach Chris Faircloth with some surprising news: Faircloth would be stepping down from his post after seven seasons, and school officials wanted Thurman to take the reins.
“I kept asking, ‘are you are joking with me?’,” Thurman said. “He definitely surprised us all.”
There wasn’t much need for contemplation, but after a weekend of thinking it over, Thurman accepted the job Monday. He’s been on staff for nearly a decade and a half, serving most recently as the special teams coordinator and defensive line coach.
The program has won three state championships since 2001, including two with Faircloth at the helm. Thurman has been a crucial part of the success.
“You aren’t going to get a better opportunity than this,” Thurman said. “Everyone always wants to be a head coach and I was no different. But I wasn’t looking to leave. I’m happy at Vegas. I would have been happy being (Faircloth’s) assistant the next 15 years.”
The Las Vegas program, which has won 16 state championships dating back to the 1930s, is full of history and tradition. It hasn’t lost to rival Rancho in the annual “Bone Game” in a remarkable 15 years and has one of the biggest fan bases in the state.
With that comes a tremendous responsibility. Thurman, just like Faircloth, plans to embrace and add to the tradition.
Thurman, whose wife, Sue, is the school’s girls' volleyball coach, also lives near the school. Simply put, he’s a perfect fit for one of the state’s most high-profile jobs.
“We are going to do things the way we’ve always done and continue building on it,” Thurman said.
Las Vegas has won nine of the last 11 Northeast Division titles, also capturing seven Sunrise Regional crowns in the same time. Under Faircloth’s watchful eye, the Wildcats won an impressive six consecutive regional crowns from 2003 to 2008.
Faircloth is known for logging long hours in preparation, often struggling to find a balance between preparing for the next game and season, and spending time with his family.
Now, all of his energy will be dedicated to being a father and husband.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about the last few years,” Faircloth said. “If I didn’t do it now, I might have regretted it, and I didn’t want to live life like that.”
He’s been coaching since 1982 and has been a part of the staff at Las Vegas since in the early 1990s, when the school was still in downtown. Leaving was a tough decision, especially when you consider the Wildcats return two of the area’s top players in senior-to-be running back Farrell Victor and quarterback Hassan Henderson, making another deep playoff run likely.
“It’s going to take a little while before it sets in,” Faircloth said. “But I want to spend time with my little boy (who is 9 years old). It seems like they were born yesterday.”
Faircloth, who went 77-17 with state titles in 2005 and 2006, leaves as one of the area’s most respected coaches — a claim he humbling denies. His two state titles are best among active large-school division coaches.
He hasn’t ruled out returning to coaching, but plans on enjoying Friday nights with his family and teaching business courses at Las Vegas.
“We prepared every year like we were going to win the state championship,” Faircloth said. “Some of the years, we fell short. Those years we won stand out as the pinnacle.”