In 2001, Lincoln University in Jefferson City was seeking a coach for its track and field program. At the time, a young, energetic coach from Jamaica had been working as an assistant at a college in North Carolina and was looking to take the next step.

“I got a job interview,” Victor Thomas recalled, “and the rest is history.”

Great history, in fact.

Lincoln University has since emerged as one of NCAA Division II’s top track and field programs thanks to Thomas, whose 19 seasons have been nothing short of remarkable.

Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Thomas with the Class of 2021.

The honor comes eight years after the Hall of Fame inducted the Lincoln University Track & Field Program.

Overall, Thomas has guided 14 women’s teams to NCAA Division II national titles: nine D-II Outdoor titles and five D-II Indoor championships. Additionally, the women’s teams have won five MIAA Indoor titles and four MIAA Outdoor championships.

On the men’s side, the Blue Tigers finished No. 2 nationally in 2012 in the D-II Outdoor and, in 2016, won their first MIAA Indoor title since 1981. The 2017 Lincoln men won the MIAA Outdoor, and the 2020 indoor team was ranked No. 1 before the pandemic led to the season’s cancellation.

Along the way, Thomas has coached Lincoln athletes to 897 All-American performances (top eight finishes at national meets). That includes 92 individual national championships and 38 relay titles.

However, it was not an instant success.

When Thomas arrived from Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, where he had been a graduate assistant for coach Brian Fetzer, Lincoln’s track and field athletes weren’t dedicated across the board.

“So I decided I would try overseas (recruiting), beginning with Jamaica,” Thomas said. “At the time, we had two Jamaicans on the team that I inherited. One was my former high school star, Sedell Roberts. I recruited two for the Spring 2002 semester, and that is when I realized that all you needed to win was a few quality athletes.”

Thomas had gotten his start in coaching back home in Jamaica after his high school coach left the team. Thomas himself had ran the 100, 200 and competed in the long jump in high school and, in college, ran the 100 and 200 and 4×100 meter relay. Plus, he had played soccer three years.

He also had a burning drive to coach, considering he had grown up in inner city Kingston, Jamaica, a city of 1.2 million.

Thomas’ strategy was to try to recruit at least two international athletes annually.

“It proved me correct because we won five straight Outdoors. It would have being at least seven, but Davita Prendergast went professional after her second year,” Thomas said. “I also tried to get students that love the sport, that are not burned out from high school and who I anticipate will have a great upside after good training. So far it has worked.”

The secret to his athletes’ success? Thomas pays attention to the mental as much as the physical, knowing that boosting an athlete’s confidence could make all the difference.

His teams also have had success in recent years despite a number of other MIAA opponents building indoor facilities. Lincoln shares one with the community, and Blue Tigers athletes have benefited from basketball coaches being accommodating during their own practices.

“Surprisingly, my personal highlight since I have been at Lincoln University is seeing students who were written off by their high school system because of grades,” Thomas said. “I always state to the student athletes that they should use the scholarship to get their degree, because the system uses them for sports and they will not be running forever.”

A multiple conference and national Coach of the Year, Thomas also has led the Jamaican National Team to a number of events, including the Pam-American Games.

Over the years, he also had the support of many, including his late mother, younger brother Norman and son Damion. Friends such as Cassius Smith, Marella Richardson, Soyini Thompson, Everton Birthwright, Carl Pringle and Ailene Smith have been supportive. He also appreciates Lincoln’s presidents and athletics directors for their support.

“Dr. Henson’s motto was doing more with less. I have lived by this for the past 18 years going on 19. I’d rather be a big fish in a little pond, than a small fish in a big ocean,” Thomas said. “The struggle has made me a great coach.”