JEFFERSON — Jefferson Dragons wrestling coach Doug Thurmond has earned his share of accolades over his more than 20 years in the sport.
The coaching legend’s induction into the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast clearly serves as the cherry on top of arguably one of the most prolific coaching runs ever.
"It’s real nice for me and my family and our program because that’s something that you really don’t think about or think that would happen," Thurmond said prior to the event. "I’ve been to Stillwater, Okla., and been through the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and being inducted is a great honor."
Already owning the official title of "Northeast Georgia’s Most Dominating Team," as announced by the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Thurmond is also a four-time recipient of the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year Award for Georgia, while also capturing the organization’s Southeastern Coach of the Year honor on two occasions.
Thurmond joked about how time has moved so quickly when reflecting on this latest honor.
"The first thing I thought was, ‘Wow am I getting that old,’" Thurmond said. "Someone explained it to me and said to take a look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because there are folks in there who are still making music and producing albums. So I guess I’m not getting kicked out."
Thurmond has compiled a 334-34-1 coaching record at Jefferson and a previous stint at Johnson High, where he coached from 1987-95.
During that span, he has coached 52 individual state champions and 39 runner-ups in his almost 19 years on the mat.
Those numbers alone make Thurmond one of the best coaches ever in any sport, but he remains humble.
"I don’t know about being one of the best but it’s very nice to be mentioned," Thurmond said. "It has hit me to a certain degree. It’s something I’ll probably look back on and I guess it’ll be one of the neat things that happened in my career."
Thurmond wrestled for the Dragons under legendary Jefferson coach Jack N. Keen, who began his coaching career in 1957 before arriving in Jefferson in 1965, and is also a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
"As I remembered, Doug wrestled at 132-pounds and at the time Class AA was like Class AAA today, so we were a lot smaller than the schools we wrestled against," Keen said. "He didn’t have a very strong program when he got to Johnson but he built that program up. I think you learn a lot more from coaching wrestling than actually wrestling though and he’s progressed greatly. His whole career he’s done well."
Thurmond returned to Jefferson in 1996 and served as an assistant on Keen’s staff before taking over the program in 2001. Keen, who at last count has watched 22 of his former wrestlers enter the coaching officiating ranks, said he first tried to pry Thurmond away from Johnson with little success before finally convincing him to return to the Dragon fold.
"Doug was coaching at Johnson and I had tried to get him to come over as my assistant several times and it didn’t work out," Keen said. "I begin to come down towards the end of my time at Jefferson and it finally worked out. He served as my assistant for three years and I turned the program over to him in 2001. It’s just worked out perfectly as everybody can see and he’s done a fantastic job. We were always a contender but he’s made Jefferson more than a contender now."
Keen’s assessment is nothing short of accurate.
Since taking over the program in 2001, the Dragons have won nine straight traditional state titles along with eight straight duals championships, giving the program an unprecedented 17 state titles in a nine-year span. It’s a run Keen said he doesn’t believe will be matched.
"Doug has put together an unbelievable record," Keen said. "If he quit right now that record will never be broken. I hope he’ll go on for a long time because we’re real proud of him."
If Thurmond decides to continue coaching as long as Keen, who he considers a mentor along with former coaches Jim Stoudamire and Dennis Horn, he will have a chance to coach all four of his sons. The oldest, Cam, graduated last year and won a state title during his time at Jefferson. Cason is the second oldest and a defending state champion who returns this season. Thurmond’s youngest two sons who he referred to as his little mat rats, 12-year-old Tanner and seven-year-old Tyson are already involved in the Jefferson USA program and will likely continue the family tradition of wrestling for the Dragons.
"I’ve coached my two oldest, and I’ve still got two little ones who are getting started," Thurmond said. "Hopefully I’ll be able to coach them too. Time will tell."
In the meantime, Thurmond said he hopes he can continue to be a positive influence in the lives of those he comes in contact with whether it be through wrestling or just out in the community.
"I always respected what Dan Gable (former University of Iowa wrestling coach) did as well as other great coaches" Thurmond said. "There are a lot of great coaches and athletes like Walter Payton who are also great role models and just great people. They took into consideration the long term and helping the people they came in contact with. The Hall is great and a wonderful accomplishment, but to have people come back and say you helped me through this time or I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am right now without a push from you, those are the types of things that make my job and my life worthwhile and that’s really what it’s all about