NFL Legend Tra Thomas Builds Post-Playing Career as Offensive Line Coach
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
When Tra Thomas left the NFL in 2010, he says he "took a little break." The big left tackle, a longtime Philadelphia Eagles stalwart, spent a few years on Philly sports radio and TV.
But he says he found his true post-career calling as a coach.
“I enjoy coaching, I really do," Thomas said. "You watch the film, you make the corrections and then you see what you have done.
“I probably should have gone right into it when I retired. I took a little break, and that was good, but I wish I could have gotten into it right away. Who knows where I would be now?"
In January, Thomas announced that he'll be starting as the offensive line coach for IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL for the 2021 season.
“I liked being an analyst, but anybody can talk about (football)," Thomas said. "I wanted to put my words into action and see if I really know what I’m talking about. Can you actually go out and fix something, or make corrections and help mold these young guys and develop them?"
Thomas' first experience as a coach came in the Eagles' organization as an offensive assistant from 2013-14 under Chip Kelly with the Eagles.
"The two years I did coach with the Eagles, it was a big learning experience, seeing the other side of it," Thomas said. "(High school coaching) been a lot of fun. It’s bringing all those years of experience I have as a player and coach. I’m doing my own segment, drawing the plays, all the things that have to happen, and then getting the guys ready."
As a high school player, Thomas was a late bloomer. He didn’t play football until his freshman year at DeLand High School in Florida.
“I was always too big to play Pop Warner," he said. “I grew up playing football in the park across the street from me, just playing with my friends. We had a football and we had grass. That’s what we did.
“Playing football (competitively) was something I always wanted to do, but because of my size it didn’t work out. But once the opportunity presented itself in high school, I never looked back. It was on from there."
From DeLand High School, Thomas went on to Florida State University. In 1998, he was drafted 11th overall by the Eagles, and throughout his 12-year career, he established himself as one of the league's best left tackles.
The three-time Pro Bowler played all but one of his NFL seasons with the Eagles, ending his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009 after 168 starts in 174 total games.
As a player, Thomas said he always thought about coaching. Now that he is a coach, he is relishing the chance to work with some of the best young offensive linemen in the country.
"We get a lot of talent," Thomas said of IMG, which draws players from all over the country. "But we want to develop them. It’s a lot of work."
Thomas’ message to his young linemen is simple. Be ready.
"Be on time and be ready to go to work," said Thomas. "Don’t act like you know everything, because you don’t. Be ready to learn. We’re going to tech you the proper technique.
Thomas credits Juan Castillo, his offensive line coach with the Eagles, for helping him become the player he was. He wants to do the same for his group of young linemen, which will include his son, Jake, next fall.
“The things I’m teaching are a lot of what I learned from him," Thomas said. "As a matter of fact, we still talk quite regularly and I get ideas from him. He always told me, 'Keep trying and it will start clicking for you.'"
Photo: AP/Evan Pinkus
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