Thomas was hired as the Chiefs defensive backs coach in 2010.
"It was a lifelong dream,” Thomas said of rejoining the Chiefs. “I had so many times tried to get interviews here, to get a chance to come back because my wife is from here. She went to Park Hill High School.
“It’s also great to be around 15 or 16 guys I played with who still live in the area.”
Simply put, Kansas City is home for Thomas.
It’s more than just a place he met his wife, played his career or spent much of his time.
“This is where I really grew up,” he said. “I'm a country farm guy from a little town about 38 miles south of Houston, and then I went to a small Baptist college with about 1,500 students.
“I really grew up into manhood here in Kansas City, so it's like home for me. To come back and get a chance to work here was outstanding."
After a regime change in 2013 saw changes at many of the coaching positions, Thomas remained the defensive backs coach for Andy Reid.
"He's a great person,” Reid said. “He's so humble for all he’s accomplished. He's a good teacher. He's got a good way about him. The players listen to him and they play hard for him.
“I've never heard anybody say something negative about him. You figure all the years as a player and as a coach that he's been doing this and not having one negative thing said about you, it's crazy.
“He's time-tested for greatness."
The Chiefs brought in former All-Pro cornerback Al Harris as assistant defensive backs coach in 2013, just a year after he began his coaching career with the Miami Dolphins as an intern.
Harris played 15 years in the NFL as a standout cornerback and was known for his bump-and-run, press-style coverage. He hung up his cleats in 2011 after spending time with six different NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played for Thomas (1998) and Reid (1999-02).
“As a player, you just remember him always shooting you straight,” Harris recalled. “Not a whole lot of patience and very matter of fact, ‘this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it.’
“Now, seeing him work as a teacher, you realize he has a lot of patience.”
The opportunity to work with a Hall of Famer and someone who has more than 30 years of NFL coaching experience was intriguing to Harris.
He explained how Thomas’ presence elicits respect from those around him.
“As soon as you step in the building, his credentials speak for themselves,” Harris explained. “Everybody doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, everybody doesn’t come into the league as a free agent.
“The way that he sees the game, from both a coaches’ point of view but also as a former player, it’s unique because it takes time to develop that. He sees it so well from both sides.”
Despite being 72 years old and there being a significant generation gap between him and his current players, Thomas has a way with the guys.
He manages to get his message across and keeps things loose in his room at the same time.
“He’s not like a hard, I’m just going to press you and grind you out coach,” Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah explained. “He’s just like one of the guys in there, but he’s able to deliver his message in a way that we understand. When he gets up on the board, he knows what he’s talking about. The NFL is very technical right now, but the way he can simplify it and just bring it back to old school football makes it really easy to understand.
“Even though he played and did everything before most of us were even born, it’s amazing that he can relate to us so well.”
"His meeting rooms have always been like this, we’re serious business but we’re looser than other meeting rooms. For the simple fact that it’s a learning environment and we don’t want to be uptight. You’re not so stressed to where if you ask a question or get an answer wrong that it’s going to be hell and brimstone."
- Al Harris, Assistant Defensive Backs Coach
It sounds simple, but it’s not.
“Football is very relatable to life,” Abdullah said. “You can never stop learning, and that’s one thing with (Thomas) is that even though he’s a Hall of Famer and has won a Super Bowl both as a player and a coach, he’s still learning.
“I think that’s one of his best attributes.”
For someone who has had to adapt with the changing culture of the NFL since he first arrived as a player back in 1966, Thomas has mastered the art of dealing with people.
“His meeting rooms have always been like this, we’re serious business but we’re looser than other meeting rooms,” Harris explained. “For the simple fact that it’s a learning environment and we don’t want to be uptight. You’re not so stressed to where if you ask a question or get an answer wrong that it’s going to be hell and brimstone.
“I think that goes a long way with the players.”
It’s something Harris has learned and is continuing to learn from Thomas.
“It means the world to me,” Harris said of working alongside Thomas. “Anything I can learn from him, how to interact with players, how to communicate with them or how to get the most out of a guy, Emmitt does a great job of that and that’s what I’m learning from him. The steps of teaching.
“I tip my hat to him because he’s always here early in the morning, working and being the same guy every day. He can still teach and has enough fire in the oven to go out there and get at it every day.”
Abdullah said there’s definitely a certain level of respect that comes with playing for a Hall of Famer.
“The little kid and the football fan come out,” Abdullah said of playing under Thomas. “With his résumé, you definitely understand who is walking into that room. As football players, we’ve all been competitors since we were young. We strive to be the best and when you have someone that is elite in the history of the game, it makes you kind of sit up straight in your chair.
“We see the pictures of all the greats on the wall in the locker room. To have one of those guys in your room, you just respect it. When you put on that jersey, you have to show up because you’re representing him as well.”