KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was 53 years ago that Emmitt Thomas arrived in Kansas City, and after 13 seasons as a Hall of Fame players and coaching on the sidelines for 40 years including the last nine with the Chiefs, the 75-year-old Thomas decided to call it a career.
“My journey started in Kansas City, and by the grace of God I am able to end my NFL career here as well,” Thomas said in a statement issued by the team. “I would like to thank the Hunt family and the Chiefs organization for all that they have done for me in my special days here in Kansas City. It has been a privilege to work alongside the great coaches that have come through this building.”
Thomas, a source told Chiefs Digest, decided now was the right time to depart as new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo put together his staff.
Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt issued a statement congratulating Thomas on his 51 seasons spent working in the NFL.
“Over the course of a career that spans two leagues and most of the modern era of the NFL, Emmitt was a Hall of Fame player and one of the most respected coaches in the league,” Hunt said. “Emmitt will always be a part of our Chiefs family, and we wish him the best in retirement.”
The native of Angleton, Texas, located south of Houston, went undrafted in 1966 out of Bishop College. He played mostly a reserve role as a rookie, but intercepted a pass against Buffalo in the AFL Championship game that sent the Chiefs to the first Super Bowl.
He blossomed as a cornerback in his second season, turning in 58 interceptions during a career that included five Pro Bowl Appearances and earning first-team and second-team All-Pro honors twice. During the Chiefs Super Bowl championship season in 1969, he led the AFL with nine interceptions. He also lead the league with a career-high 12 interceptions in 1974 at age 31.
Thomas retired in 1978, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He's one of 14 undrafted players enshrined in the Hall, and the first to enter the league during the Super Bowl era. The Chiefs added him to the team's Ring of Honor in 1986 and retired his No. 18
Upon ending his playing career, Thomas immediately turned to coaching. After two seasons with Central Missouri State, Thomas entered the NFL as an assistant with the St. Louis Cardinals, and credits both programs for helping launch a 38-year run as an NFL coach.
“I’d like to thank the Bidwill family and Coach Jim Hanifan for giving me my first NFL coaching job in St. Louis as well as Coach Walt Hicklin who introduced me to coaching at the University of Central Missouri back in 1979,” Thomas said.
He later spent time with Washington, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Minnesota and Atlanta before returning to Kansas City in 2010 as defensive backs coach on the staff of head coach Todd Haley. Head coach Andy Reid retained Thomas on his staff upon his arrival in Kansas City in 2013.
“It was an honor to have Emmitt on our coaching staff,” Reid said in a statement. “Having a Pro Football Hall of Famer lead that room and share his experiences as a player and a coach has been incredible for our guys. Beyond football, he’s a tremendous person, and I’ve enjoyed working with him and getting to know him.”
Thomas won three Super Bowl rings, one as a player with the Chiefs in 1970 and two was an assistant with Washington from 1986 to 1994. As wide receivers and defensive backs coach, Thomas worked with Art Monk and Darrell Green. The trio entered the Hall of Fame together in 2008.
He later served as defensive coordinator for the Eagles, Packers and Vikings. During his time in Philadelphia, Thomas helped jumpstart the career of future Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins
"What Emmitt did for me is Emmitt would not let me settle for average,” Dawkins said during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2018. “He would not let me settle for good. He saw greatness in me that I did not see. He would not let me settle. he kept pushing me. It was hard. I was angry sometimes.”
He joined the Falcons as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach in 2002, a role he fulfilled for eight seasons. He took over as interim head coach at the end of the 2007 season following Bobby Petrino's resignation. The team won one of its final three games under Thomas on its way to a 4-12 record.
The coaching tradition established by Thomas extended to his son Derek, who spent five seasons as men's head basketball coach at Western Illinois during a 24-year career as a college coach.
Thomas said he feels honored and bless to have spent 53 years in the game of football.
“It has been a privilege to work alongside the great coaches that have come through this building,” Thomas said. “Having the opportunity to coach so many talented young men in my time as a coach has been one of my greatest gifts.”