Fuquay-Varina resident Thurman Leach, a veteran member of Nelson Smith’s staff – first as a line coach and for the past decade as defensive coordinator – has been named head coach at Garner High School. He succeeds Smith, who retired this past season after the Trojans advanced to the Eastern 4A finals. Smith will continue on as athletic director.
“I have been fortunate enough to be blessed to have served under three great head coaches – Mr. Smith, Mr. (Hal) Stewart and Mr. (Graham) Myrick,” Leach said. “I hope I can live up to their expectations.”
Leach grew up in Fuquay-Varina and graduated from high school there in 1984. While playing football for the Bengals and Myrick from 1981-84, Fuquay went 45-5 and reached the state playoff each year.
After graduation, Leach played football at Gardner-Webb College (now University) from 1985-88 and returned to F-V that fall as a health and physical education teacher and coach under Myrick. One year later, he was hired as an assistant coach at Garner under Stewart.
Stewart retired in 1999 and Leach continued his assistant coaching duties when Smith took the head coaching position. He spent several years as an offensive and defensive line coach before assuming defensive coordinator duties a decade ago.
Leach has also been instrumental in developing a solid weight training program while at Garner.
“We felt it was necessary around January of 1998 after we got pushed around in a game against Greenville Rose,” Leach said. “Coach Smith said he wanted to get more into weight training and we have been better ever since.”
Coaches who stay in the profession long enough always borrow from others, and Leach says he is no exception.
“Coach Myrick was always an open person who was giving to his kids,” Leach said. “Coach Stewart was a great communicator who understood his players. And Coach Smith? Talk about a tireless work ethic – I haven’t seen anybody catch up with him yet. His work ethic and desire are tops, hands down…bar none.
“I have been blessed to have three great men who each have had an impact on my life.”
Leach knew he wanted to become a teacher and coach at a young age.
“I wanted to give back to my community because of Coach Myrick,” he said. “I was fortunate that I had very good role models growing up (including my parents).”
Leach said that the sense of family and commitment to the student-athletes at Garner is similar to Fuquay-Varina. “It will be a smooth transition because the kids here at Garner know me,” he said. “They know my expectations and what I will require from them in order for us to be successful. And we have a good staff here – many of them who have been with Coach Smith for years.”
Leach said his philosophy will remain the same.
“We will always work hard and our goal is to put the kids in position to be successful,” he said. “We’re not going to change much and we will have fun. Against each opponent, we will try to get the best matchups and then exploit those matchups.”
Leach said he has had opportunities to go elsewhere but chose to remain at Garner.
“When you sit down and write the words loyalty and trust, it comes down to the people you work with,” he said. “I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some great people at Garner over the years. It was the same way at Fuquay.”
Smith believes Leach has all the tools necessary to continue the success of the program.
“I have known and worked with Thurman as a teacher and coach for 22 years,” he said. “I have had a chance to watch him grow and become an outstanding coach. The thing about Thurman is he’s a very loyal person – a guy you can trust and a guy who the kids think the world of and respect. You can’t fool kids. When you have the chance to get a person of such high character and you have seen him work and mature as a coach, it wasn’t much of a hard decision to make at all.”