Hall of Famer and Chiefs DB coach Emmitt Thomas retires after 51 years in the NFL

Emmitt Thomas is retiring after more than a half century in football. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Emmitt Thomas is retiring after more than a half century in football. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

After 51 years in the NFL, Kansas City legend Emmitt Thomas is finally ready to call it a career.

The Hall of Famer and longtime coach – who has spent the past nine seasons as the Chiefs defensive back coach – announced his retirement, the team announced on Tuesday.

Thomas spent 13 seasons with the Chiefs as a cornerback, where he racked up 58 interceptions that rank first in franchise history and 12th all-time. The five-time Pro Bowler led the league in picks in 1969 (6) and 1974 (12) while returning them for a league-leading two touchdowns in 1974 as well. Not bad for an undrafted free agent who changed positions after playing quarterback and wide receiver at Bishop College.

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Thomas was belatedly elected into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after being nominated by the Seniors Committee, 30 years following his retirement. He was the ninth Chief enshrined in Canton and just the fourth who had spent his entire career in red and gold.

“I have been blessed and honored to be a part of the NFL for the last 51 years,” Thomas said in the release. “My journey started in Kansas City, and by the grace of God I am able to end my NFL career here as well. … I love Kansas City and this fan base and can’t thank them enough for all the support they have given me in my time here as a player and a coach.”

After his retirement in 1978, Thomas got his first coaching job at Central Missouri State. But two years later, he was back in the NFL as an assistant coach with the then-St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas finally became a defensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, eventually holding the same position with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. Thomas was even briefly the interim head coach in Atlanta in 2007 after Bobby Petrino left to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks.


Thomas eventually rejoined the only franchise he ever played for as a defensive backs coach in 2010. Under his watch, the Chiefs have consistently been among the leaders in interceptions, finishing in the top 10 six times including finishing first in 2016, second in 2015 and third in 2013. Kansas City was also among the top seven teams in scoring defense every season from 2013-16.

“On behalf of my family and the entire Chiefs organization, I want to congratulate Emmitt on his remarkable 51 years in the National Football League,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “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. Emmitt will always be a part of our Chiefs family, and we wish him the best in retirement.”

A member of both Chiefs Super Bowl teams, Thomas intercepted four passes in the 1969 playoffs en route to the franchise’s only win in Super Bowl IV. Thomas also added a pair of rings while working as a defensive backs coach with the Washington Redskins in 1987 and 1991.

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