Derrick Thomas, a long-time high school football assistant coach in Lexington, applied and interviewed for five head coaching positions in the city over the past several years, but he never got hired.
"I tried and tried but kept being denied," he said. "It got to the point where I thought it just wasn't meant to be."
Then, out of the blue, opportunity knocked at the door of the former Bryan Station and University of Kentucky linebacker.
Bob Lawson unexpectedly resigned as Paul Dunbar's football coach a couple weeks ago after just one season in the job. (Lawson didn't want to comment on his resignation.)
With the end of the school year fast approaching, Dunbar needed to fill the vacancy quickly. It turned to Thomas, a guidance counselor at the school for the past eight years. He knew football, and he knew the kids in the school.
Thomas took the job.
"At last," he said Wednesday morning.
Technically, Thomas is an "interim" coach for the 2011 season, which means the school will reopen the position next year. But he figures he'll prove himself and be boss of the Bulldogs long term.
Thomas knows the challenges ahead. The once-proud program (state runners-up in 1996) is at rock bottom. The Bulldogs have an 8-46 record over the past five years, and they have had seven coaches since 2000.
"When I met with the kids, I shared my background, about the trials I've gone through trying to be a head coach," Thomas said.
"I related it to the Dunbar football situation. I know what it's like to be knocked down, disrespected and overlooked. Life is like football. When you get knocked down, you've got to get back up and be respected again."
Thomas, 41, is steeped in Lexington football. He was an all-state linebacker at Bryan Station (1986). He has served as an assistant at Tates Creek, Lafayette, Bryan Station (twice) and Dunbar (twice). After becoming frustrated with not getting a head coaching position, he dropped down to be a middle school coach at Leestown and Winburn the past few years.
Thomas has spent the past couple weeks talking up football to the Dunbar students, encouraging them to come out and "be part of something fun and exciting.
"We're going to celebrate the little things to build this program up again.
"I know we're going against heavy competition in this city and district, but there's no reason we shouldn't be right up there with the best."
Thomas already has most of his staff in place. Cisco Bryant will be his defensive coordinator. Jim Franklin will be offensive coordinator. Brandon Logan, Tyson Banker, Chris Ballard, Gary Morton and Larry Poynter will also be assistants.