Miami Advice: Coach Thomas brings years of experience to WKU

Wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas speaks with wide receiver Lonnie Turner (3) during WKU’s football practice Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky.

Elliott Pratt

Lamar Thomas has spent a lot of time playing golf the past ten years.

It’s the ideal lifestyle of a retired NFL player of seven years – play a round (or two) a day, take vacations, sit in a TV or radio booth as a color commentator and enjoy retirement.

But Thomas didn’t want that lifestyle forever. That’s why he is where he is today — the wide receivers coach for the WKU football team.

“My best friend and I, Terrell Buckley, sat down one day at a restaurant after 36 holes of golf, which was our usual, we’re both retired from the NFL and we just said there was something missing in our lives and one of the things was structure.”

A decorated collegiate career as a University of Miami Hurricane from 1988-92 brought him two first team All-Big East Conference selections as a wide receiver and two national championships.

He still ranks second in career receptions (144), receiving yards (2,271) and touchdowns (23) at his alma mater. Those accolades have earned Thomas an induction into the UM Sports Hall of Fame 2014 class. Miami will formally introduce the class Nov. 23 while WKU plays at Texas State.

At Miami he was famous for being one of many brash, swagger-fueled players on the team — he was featured in an ESPN 30-for-30 2009 documentary “The U”, documenting the bigger-than-life hip-hop culture around the rise of the Miami football team to national prominence.  Those closest to Thomas know that there was always more to him than his initial impression.

Rick Swain, Thomas’ high school football coach, said Thomas’ first impression is “just part of his make-up”, and that that “swagger” persona is what gave those Miami teams an identity. Thomas agrees, but he wishes the documentary had given a bit of a different picture.

“I wish that story had talked about how hard we worked and how much we loved the game of football,” Thomas said. “We loved the game, we cared about the game, we got our degrees and, yeah we had fun, but it was all about learning football and competing and going to practice every day and looking forward to getting better.”

That idea is what drives Thomas every day to be more of a mentor to players than a football coach, he said, and that drive to get better is what motivated Thomas to regain that structure in his life.

After obtaining his degree in liberal arts from Miami, he made a phone call to coach Swain to thank him for his influence in high school, but he wanted to do more than simply say thank you.

“I said, ‘I want to come help you and hopefully I can help with kids like you helped me’”, Thomas told Swain.

Thomas worked for two years as a pass game coordinator at Boynton Beach Communuity High School in Boynton Beach, FL before Swain encouraged him to climb up the coaching ranks.

“The sky’s the limit for Lamar because knowledge wise he’s been at the top of his craft, and he knows how to play the game,” Swain said.

Thomas’s track record strikes the attention of anyone that mentions his name on the field. In today’s game, his name may be a bit outdated, but he still relates with his players.

“I knew his name because of the 30-for-30 film, and I have a cousin that is a big Miami fan,” junior wide receiver Willie McNeal said. “When they found out he was our new wide receivers coach, he was the one who called and told me who he really was. My first initial thought was that we have a coach that knows what he’s talking about at the position and that we have a coach that’s actually played the position.

“Coach LT, he’s a coach that values your personal life.”

Valuing the personal life is what Thomas strives for. Thomas said more than anything, he looks forward to those new challenges every day of mentoring young men. Personal values always took first precedent over the money and fame for Thomas, but he keeps quiet about a lot of it.

Swain said Thomas isn’t a “showy” guy, but isn’t surprised at all by his acts of kindness and recalls a story while the two were sitting on Swain’s balcony one evening in Delray Beach, Fla.

“I doubt seriously he would every tell you anything like this,” Swain recalled. “But he was visiting a children’s hospital one time and he had a big new Rolex on and he was going through the hospital and a kid looked at the Rolex and admired it and Lamar took it off and gave it to him. That’s the kind of guy Lamar is. Materialistic things don’t really appeal to him.

“He’s always been that way, he’s just a good-hearted person.”

That’s what Thomas stresses when he goes into the homes of recruits. Besides Thomas’s knowledge of the game, one of the reason’s coach Petrino hired him at WKU was to recruit in Florida having played his entire football career in the state. Thomas says it’s “humbling” to walk in a home and parents and kids know who he is from his playing days at Miami.

“When you walk in and see a kid’s face and he asks ‘Oh, where did you play,” and he sees your rings and his parents say, ‘Hey, that’s Lamar Thomas’ it’s a humbling experience and it’s pretty cool at the same time.

“My job says wide receivers coach, but I look at it as a mentor. The things I have experienced in my career, my job is to mentor young men.”

Mentoring young kids and coaching is all part of the plan that he and Terrell Buckley drew up on a napkin after 36 holes of golf many years ago. Like Thomas, Buckley went back to school to obtain his degree at Florida State and is now coaching defensive backs at Akron. Through the years, Thomas has notched school and getting back into coaching off his list of retaining structure in his life.

Now as a member of the coaching staff at WKU, he said he is truly happy to be where he is.

“It was just what I was looking for but more importantly, a great opportunity with a great coach (Bobby Petrino), and I jumped on it not knowing what Western Kentucky had to offer,” Thomas said. “I was very surprised when I got here with the facilities, the whole community and the football team in general. I think it’s a great place and it’s a hidden gem that has room to blossom even more. It was a great decision and a no brainer on my part.

“I enjoy coming to work and coming here every morning and learning something new from coach Petrino. I’m a happy guy.”