Emmitt Thomas announced his retirement Tuesday as the defensive backs coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, ending an NFL career that began as a Hall of Fame player and wound up spanning five decades.
Thomas spent 13 seasons playing for the Chiefs, helping the organization to a pair of Super Bowl appearances and their only championship in 1970. The two-time All-Pro retired in 1978 and began coaching at Central Missouri State before moving onto the pros with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He helped the Redskins win a pair of Super Bowls, and also worked for the Eagles, Packers, Vikings and Falcons, before returning to Kansas City in 2010. He's been the Chiefs' secondary coach ever since, first under Todd Haley and retained by Romeo Crennel and current coach Andy Reid.
"My journey started in Kansas City, and by the grace of God I am able to end my NFL career here as well," said Thomas, who was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. "It has been a privilege to work alongside the great coaches that have come through this building. Having the opportunity to coach so many talented young men in my time as a coach has been one of my greatest gifts."
Thomas joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of tiny Bishop College in 1966, just four years after the organization moved from Dallas to Kansas City. He helped the Chiefs reach the first Super Bowl as a rookie, losing to the Green Bay, before returning three years later.
He had nine interceptions that season, including one in their Super Bowl triumph over Minnesota.
Thomas continued to be a productive player until his retirement, then became a sought-after coach for defensive backs. He spent four years with the Cardinals, eight more with the Redskins and three with the Eagles before serving as defensive coordinator of the Packers.
After a stint as defensive coordinator of the Vikings, he joined the Falcons coaching staff, where he got his only taste as a head coach. It was Thomas who was appointed interim coach after Bobby Petrino's sudden retirement in 2007, and he rallied a broken locker room to a season-ending win over Seattle.
He was retained by new Falcons coach Mike Smith the following year, then joined the Chiefs in 2010, a move that allowed him to bookend a playing and coaching career spanning 51 years.
"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," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. "Emmitt will always be a part of our Chiefs family."
The 75-year-old Thomas' retirement had been expected after the Chiefs, who lost in overtime to the Patriots in the AFC championship game, fired longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
Steve Spagnuolo has been hired to handle the defense and is bringing in many of his own assistants.
"It was an honor to have Emmitt on our coaching staff," Reid said. "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."