Tompkins explained why he chose to coach at Mississippi State for 16 year. "What kept me at MSU so long were the great players that I had the pleasure to coach," said Tompkins, who keeps in close contact with most of his former players. "I wanted them to not only excel on the field, but to get their academic degrees and prepare themselves to be successful in life."
Tompkins, a man respected by anybody who has known him whether it be coaches, players or fans, began his coaching career at Foley (AL) High School in 1962. After coaching 11 years at five different high schools, he moved into the college ranks when he was hired by his alma mater, Troy State, in 1973 as their defensive coordinator. Over the course of the next 16 years, he made coaching stops at Jacksonville State, Richmond, Southern Miss and Southern Illinois before then Mississippi State head football coach Rockey Felker hired him in 1989 as his linebacker coach.
The dividends he brought to the team were immediate. During his first year, he coached James Williams, who earned All-SEC honors. James, who led the SEC in tackles, was just one of 10 All-SEC players that Jim coached. Others included Reggie Stewart, Keo Coleman, Dan Boyd (2 time All-SEC), Juan Long, Dwayne Curry (3 time All-SEC), Paul Lacoste, Greg Favors, Barrin Simpson (2 time All-SEC), Mario Haggan (3 time All-SEC). Plus, among that group, he tutored 8 All-Americans.
While he was known as an outstanding teacher, he also was known for his extraordinary recruiting. He not only recruited Greg Favors and Barrin Simpson, both of whom earned All-SEC honors, but also All-SEC honorees Walt Harris, Robert Hicks, Willie Blade, Robert Bean, Randy Thomas, Jason Clark (freshman All-SEC), Conley Earls (freshman All-SEC), James Grier (freshman All-SEC) and Nick Turner. Harris, Hicks, Thomas all earned All-America honors.
"As a coach, I loved teaching and developing players," said Tompkins. "Recruiting was another area that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was very rewarding to discover a good athlete, get to know he and his family, then help nurture him to find success, both on and off the field."
On the field, he helped Mississippi State football achieve one of its most successful periods in its history. During that span, Mississippi State played in 6 bowl games, won the 1998 SEC Western Division Championship and played in the 1998 Championship game, losing to the University of Tennessee, the eventual national champion. The 1999 team led the nation in total defense.
"I take a lot of pride in the accomplishments, we, as a football team achieved during my tenure at MSU," said Tompkins. "I coached with some great coaches, who made hard work enjoyable - and even fun."
Tompkins also credits many other people besides the coaches for helping him during his time at Mississippi State. "My wife, Phyllis, has always been involved in my work," said Tompkins. "She tutored many of our players in their academic work. She was in charge of my players' favorite meeting, which was held every Thursday evening before games. I appreciate all the support that I felt from the administration, fans, alumni and high school coaches. I also want to give special thanks to my secretary, Jane Ballard, who always kept me organized and moving in the right direction."
He's also proud that one member of his family is a graduate of Mississippi State, his daughter Paige. "I am also glad that my daughter, Paige, decided to come to MSU to complete her Ph.D."
While he is retiring from coaching, it will always be in his heart. "I'll always miss it, but I'm glad that I was in a profession that I enjoyed so much," said Tompkins. "I know you can't coach forever, but I did it for 42 years, and for that, I'm thankful."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.