Joel Thomas is one of the best running backs to ever come out of the University of Idaho.
He arrived at UI in the fall of 1993 from Port Angeles, Wash., and played as a true freshman. He broke his foot during the following season and was redshirted. He returned but suffered what was thought a career-ending knee injury in 1997 against Air Force, but came back the following year and led Idaho to the Big West title and a victory over Southern Mississippi in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Joel’s name is littered throughout the Vandal record book. He is the program’s all-time leader in yards rushing (3,929), touchdowns (51) and carries (765). He averaged 85.4 rushing yards per game and has a total of 4,737 yards for rushing, receiving and kick returns.
He also is tied for the single-game record with four rushing touchdowns in a game and has the second-longest rushing TD in UI history with a 90-yard run against Boise State in 1996. In that game, he rushed for 273 yards, the third-highest total in program history. He finished 17 games with more than 100 yards rushing, second only to fellow Hall of Famer Sherriden May.
Joel was twice selected first-team All-Big West and was named the conference’s Player of the Year in 1998. He helped lead the Vandal to a victory in that year’s Humanitarian Bowl, receiving the Humanitarian Award following the game. He also received offers to play in the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. Joel graduated from Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in public communications.
Joel started his coaching career in 2000 as a graduate assistant coach at Purdue. He remained with Purdue through 2001, before assuming the running backs coach position with Louisville for two years. He was then the co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach for his alma mater Idaho for two years, before returning to Purdue as the running backs coach from 2006 to 2008 Joel then worked as the running backs coach for the Washington Huskies during 2009-12, where he coached a 1,000-yard rusher in each season. He was also named associate head coach for offensive responsibilities during the 2012 season. In 2013, Joel became the running backs coach for Arkansas.
In 2015, Joel joined the coaching staff of the New Orleans Saints as the running backs coach where he is still coaching today.
Joel was inducted into the University of Idaho Hall of Fame in 2008. He and his wife, Ebbie, are the parents of two boys