Coach Spotlight: Garth Thomson

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Photo by: Finn Millians

FMU’s longest serving alumni coach, Garth Thomson has built a family both on and off campus.

Finn Millians, Copy Editor

As a former FMU men’s tennis player in 1990, Garth Thomson, head coach of both the men’s and women’s tennis teams, never imagined he would become the head tennis coach for his alma mater.

“You know, I always thought I would be working on Wall Street or somewhere in the finance world, but I feel like if I lived behind a desk my whole life it wouldn’t have been a positive lifestyle for me,” Thomson said.

After receiving his bachelor’s in business administration, Thomson planned on playing tennis as long as he could. Many tennis players play tournaments around the country to accumulate points that lead to invitations to bigger tournaments and a more established career. Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances involving weak Zimbabwean currency  slowed the process for Thomson considerably.

“My goal was to play tennis after I graduated, but I didn’t have any resources,” Thomson said. “In Zimbabwe, foreign currency is terrible, so I would teach for a month and then go play tennis for a month.”

His steady determination allowed him to follow his dream for a while, but he was eventually brought back to FMU when the tennis teams needed a coach. The athletic director of FMU had known Thomson as a player and reached out to him to offer him a job.

“I did that for a year, and then there was an interim coach after Dave Cordrey who was here for about a year and then resigned in October,” Thomson said. “Coach Griffin, who was the baseball coach and athletic director then, called me and said, ‘Garth, would you like to be the tennis coach?’”

It was an unexpected offer, but not one Thomson would reject. Though he loved traveling and playing tennis, he knew that it was not a sustainable lifestyle without a steady source of income.

“I knew I could not afford tennis and stay out there; I needed to make a living, and this opened up,” Thomson said. “Initially, I thought this would be something I would do for a year or two. A lot of players I actually had played with [were] on the team, so it was a very strange situation, but after a couple of years they said they would pay for my MBA.”

Twenty-nine years later, Thomson remains and is the only alumni coach on staff. With a legacy of many tournament appearances, academic all-Americans and undefeated seasons, Thomson turned his temporary position into a lifestyle and lifetime career.

“I really enjoyed it,” Thomson said. “You know, I’m outside. It’s a great life. Six months I’m working hard and then six months I spend a lot more time with the family, and to me, it was a wonderful way to make a living.”

Presently, Thomson has simple yet ambitious goals for his program and players. He always plans to appear in the NCAA tournament, but he also does not want to limit himself and his teams.

“Let’s see how far we can go,” Thomson said.

Ultimately, though his career turned about a bit different than his original plan, he did succeed with one goal: to live in America.

Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Thomson dreamed of leaving and moving to America—a beacon of abundance and opportunity.

“Coming from a third world country, I felt like the U.S. had a lot to offer,” Thomson said. “When we are struggling with basic necessities, and you come to a country where there is an abundance of everything—I saw a lot of opportunities here. I did not want to go back, so I made sure I did well on the tennis court and in the classroom so that I could keep my scholarship and stay here.”

Staying in the U.S. is exactly what he did. At 52, Thomson has established deep roots in Florence, South Carolina, at school with his legacy and in the community with his wife and three children. 

Thomson continues his legacy now in mentoring and coaching his players in both life and tennis.

“The transition between 18 to 21 to graduation, you see a dramatic change in the players and people,” Thomson said. “We’re trying to win the conference, trying to get to the NCAA’s, but we’re getting a degree first. I just enjoy the journey with them.”

With the large number of international students making up the rosters, Thomson wants to help shape them into great people with high ambitions. He uses his own journey to help guide them on theirs.

“Life is one big adventure; you better go and make the most of it,” Thomson said.