From a humble beginning in 1997 Lawrence County Coach Jim Thompson has built CoachT.com into a website phenomenon that now boasts more than 67,000 members while attracting millions of page views each month
MTSM Goes One-on-One with Coach T
By Jim Muir
Back in 1997 Jim Thompson developed a website - CoachT.com - to cover the basketball success of the Lawrence County Lady Cats. Perhaps it was an omen or a prelude of things to come that the Lady Cats won the Class AAA state championship that season.
And it was from that humble start that CoachT.com has become one of the most-recognized and most-visited websites in the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area.
"It started out just to be girl's basketball and that was because my daughter was playing and she was a freshman," said Thompson. "The fact that the team won the state championship certainly added to the excitement."
Fast forward the calendar a dozen years and CoachT.com has enjoyed unparalleled success with more than 67,000 current members and millions of page views each month. But be assured that Thompson is not your typical website/tech support guy and there is much more to the man affectionately referred to as "Coach T" than the celebrity-status that CoachT.com has brought him.
Thompson is personable, clearly a family man and he loves to talk sports. In fact it takes only a brief conversation to realize that sports has remained a constant in his life since he was a youngster.
"I grew up on Lawrenceburg and basically played whatever sport was in season," recalls Thompson. "I started playing in the third grade and from that point that was all I wanted to do.
After a stellar career at Lawrence County High School (1970 graduate) where he quarterbacked the football team, was a top-notch pitcher in baseball and a starter in basketball, Thompson took his considerable athletic talents to Austin Peay where he played four years of football and one year of basketball.
"Looking back if I have any regrets in sports it's that I didn't start to school a year later," said Thompson. "I graduated high school when I was 17 and actually played three college football games before I turned 18. I went from 164 pounds as a senior in high school, little skinny kid, to 194 pounds when I reported to Austin Peay my freshman year."
After graduating college Thompson taught for three years in Charleston, South Carolina before returning back to his alma mater - a place that he's called home for the past 32 years. During his long tenure at Lawrence County High School Thompson has kept active in sports while also showing his versatility by serving as head coach of four different sports. Thompson coached 11 years of football (three years in South Carolina and eight years at Lawrence County), eight years of basketball (two as head coach and six as an assistant), two years as head baseball coach and 18 years as head golf coach.
In a surprising answer Thompson said his favorite sport to coach is baseball and by his own admission said "I'm not a good head coach because I'm not good at delegating authority."
"I tried to do everything myself," said Thompson. "And you can't do that as a head coach."
Remembering those early days when the website was launched Thompson quickly points out that CoachT.com was "beyond humble."
"To say that we had a humble start really doesn't even do justice, we had a very, very humble beginning," Thompson said with a chuckle. "I'm not a tech guy but I knew how to do HTML code so I could figure out, by trial and error, how to get something on a page and get by. I'd look at and then play around until I got it like I wanted it. I have a tech guy now that is unbelievably talented and I always tell him, drive safely because if something would happen to you I don't know what I would do."
After the successful 1997-98 basketball season came to an end Thompson wanted to continue on with the website, not out of necessity but out of love.
"I really enjoyed doing, I quit playing golf, I quit coaching golf," said Thompson. "I don't do anything but the website and my family right now."
Thompson said approximately two years after he began the website he realized that from that humble beginning a monster had been created.
"I remember one time calling the kids in and showing them the little counter where we had more than a thousand hits in one night and we all went ‘wow' - now we do a thousand hits a minute some nights now," Thompson said.
Shortly after that Thompson expanded the website to a message board that allowed visitors to make comments, a move that he says increased the flow of traffic exponentially.
"After that basketball season I started tracking seven football teams and updating their scores on Friday night, it was very crude message board that we used to post football scores," said Thompson. "Then people started telling other people and really word-of-mouth was a big thing."
Thompson learned quickly that the creation of a message board goes hand-in-hand with sometimes over-zealous fans that sometimes make comments in the heat of the moment.
"I've got four great moderators and we simply don't put up with any nonsense," said Thompson. "If you make a comment that is unacceptable then we're going to boot you off and you're not coming back. If it's bad enough I'll block their IP address and they're done. And if I have to block and entire school to get one guy we'll do it. I can't afford not to, it's our reputation on the line."
Thompson said keeping tabs on posters has created some fun moments. He related a story about receiving some off-color comments that according to the IP address were coming from a local high school. Thompson contacted the principal and told him a student was on the site making the comments at that very moment.
"I told him that according to the IP address it was the third computer, depending on which way they were numbered. So the principal, who was on a cell phone, found the student," said Thompson. "I told the principal that I was going to send a message back to the student and tell him to look over his shoulder that the principal wanted to talk to him. So, the kid looked at the screen and read my message and looked over his shoulder and the principal was standing there. That problem stopped right there."
Thompson's website has become the go-to location for rabid high school fans following teams throughout the entire state. He said from that ‘wow moment' when his family marveled at 1,000 hits in a night the numbers are now off the charts. As might be expected Friday night high school football action and boys and girls post-season basketball action creates the highest level of traffic.
"We've had days when we get 600,000 and 700,000 hits in a day and we've had more than three million hits in a month," said Thompson. "On those days it's region and section basketball tournament finals and state playoffs in football that create all the traffic. When you have the boy's and girl's teams playing in basketball in the post season at the same time it gets really busy."
Despite the growth in numbers during the past 12 years the action-packed location for updating scored live during high school sporting events is still Thompson's front room.
"I have a laptop going and it stays on the scoreboard, I have my desktop on broadcasts with headphones and I'm listening to three games at one time. I have an answering machine beside me where people call in scores and my wife and I are both working our cell phones," said Thompson. "On Friday night during football season we'll get scores from all but four or five games from throughout the state of Tennessee posted before I go to bed."
Thompson and his wife, Elaine, have been married for 32 years and have three children: Brynn is married (husband Philipp) and living in Karlsruhe, Germany where she is teaching at Berlitz while getting her Masters at the University of Berlin and is the proud new parent of a beautiful baby girl, Isabella; Mark is now enrolled at Columbia State again while working towards a degree in radiology; and Katie is attending ETSU.
The 57-year-old Thompson said that he sometimes is in awe at what he's created and has no plans to slow down.
"I'll be honest with you, I don't really understand how it all works," said Thompson. "It used to take me about four hours a day to update and now we can do it in less than an hour. Sports have always been very important to me and this keeps me close to the game. I love what I do and I plan to keep on doing it."