Joe Thomas (American football executive)

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Joe Thomas
Personal information
Born:(1921-03-18)March 18, 1921
Warren, Ohio
Died:February 10, 1983(1983-02-10) (aged 61)
Miami, Florida
Career information
College:Ohio Northern
Career history
As coach:
As administrator:
Career NFL statistics
Win–loss record:2–9
Winning %:.182
Coaching stats at PFR

Joseph Henry Thomas (March 18, 1921[1] – February 10, 1983) was a National Football League (NFL) general manager and also served as the head coach of the Baltimore Colts for part of the 1974 season.

Thomas was director of player personnel for the Minnesota Vikings (1960–65) and the Miami Dolphins from 1965 until after the 1971 season, when he was let go by team owner Joe Robbie.

Thomas arranged for Robert Irsay to purchase the Los Angeles Rams from the estate of Dan Reeves for $19 million before exchanging them for Carroll Rosenbloom's Baltimore Colts in an unprecedented transaction which was completed on July 13, 1972. He became general manager of the Colts, succeeding Don Klosterman who transitioned to the Rams in a similar capacity.[2][3]

When the ballclub opened 1972 at 1–4, he fired head coach Don McCafferty on October 16 and replaced him with defensive line coach John Sandusky who was ordered by Thomas to start younger players over the veterans.[4] The result was Johnny Unitas being benched for the remainder of the season in favor of Marty Domres.[5] After the 5–9 Colts finished its first losing campaign in sixteen years,[6] he dismissed Sandusky and his entire coaching staff on December 20.[7] Eight weeks later on February 14, 1973, he named as Sandusky's successor Dolphins offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger who posted a 4–13 record before being sacked by Irsay following a 30–10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium on September 29, 1974 and replaced by Thomas himself on an interim basis.[8][9]

Weeks prior to hiring Schnellenberger, Thomas purged the team of its veteran players, beginning with trading Unitas to the San Diego Chargers on January 22, 1973.[10] Within the next ten days, Tom Matte would follow Unitas to San Diego, Bill Curry was sent to the Houston Oilers, Billy Newsome to the New Orleans Saints, Norm Bulaich to the Philadelphia Eagles and Jerry Logan to the Rams.[11] The Newsome deal brought to the Colts the second overall selection in the 1973 NFL Draft which was used to pick Bert Jones. In that draft and the one the following year, Thomas would also select a pair of blind-side offensive linemen in David Taylor and Robert Pratt and an entire defensive line of Joe Ehrmann, Mike Barnes, John Dutton and Fred Cook.[6]

By the end of 1976, he had had five different head coaches in his five-year tenure, having fired Super Bowl V-winning coach Don McCafferty after just five games in 1972. then following him with John Sandusky, Howard Schnellenberger, Thomas himself, and Ted Marchibroda. After the Colts qualified for the NFL playoffs by winning the AFC East title in each of two consecutive seasons in 1975 and 1976, Thomas lost a power struggle over player personnel decisions to Marchibroda and was fired by Irsay on January 21, 1977.[12]

Thomas then was hired as GM of the San Francisco 49ers in 1977 by new owner Eddie DeBartolo at the recommendation of Al Davis and immediately fired head coach Monte Clark.[13] The 49ers went 7–23 in Thomas' two seasons with the franchise, and his biggest trade, a series of 5 high draft picks for OJ Simpson. Thomas also fired two more head coaches, Ken Meyer and Pete McCulley, and Thomas' third hire, Fred O'Connor, was also let go.

Thomas married the former Judi Demian in 1969. They had a daughter, Paige, in June 1970.

Thomas died on February 10, 1983 at the age of 61. He was living in Miami and was VP of the Miami Dolphins at the time of his death.[14]


  1. ^ "Joe Thomas". Pro-football-reference. Retrieved November 6, 2013.
  2. ^ Maule, Tex. "Nays On The Neighs, Yea On The Baas," Sports Illustrated, August 14, 1972.. Retrieved May 16, 2018
  3. ^ Wallace, William N. "Colts' Franchise Traded for Rams; Players Remain," The New York Times, Friday, July 14, 1972.. Retrieved May 16, 2018
  4. ^ Wallace, William N. "About Pro Football: Colts Endorse Their Ex-Coach," The New York Times, Wednesday, October 18, 1972.. Retrieved May 17, 2018
  5. ^ Anderson, Dave. "Jets Pleased With Colts’ Plan Of Benching Unitas for Domres," The New York Times, Monday, October 23, 1972.. Retrieved May 17, 2018
  6. ^ a b Mulvoy, Mark. "The New Colts Are Mighty Frisky," Sports Illustrated, December 8, 1975.. Retrieved May 17, 2018
  7. ^ "Colts Discharge Sandusky And Five Assistant Coaches," The Associated Press, Thursday, December 21, 1972.. Retrieved May 17, 2018
  8. ^ Wallace, William N. "Schnellenberger Is Hired by Colts," The New York Times, Thursday, February 15, 1973.. Retrieved May 18, 2018
  9. ^ "Colts Oust Coach," United Press International, Sunday, September 29, 1974.. Retrieved May 19, 2018
  10. ^ Wallace, William N. "Unitas Is Traded to Chargers, But Says He May Not Report," The New York Times, Tuesday, January 23, 1973.. Retrieved May 18, 2018
  11. ^ D'Adamo, Joe & Underwood, John. "Eleven Days That Shook The Colts," Sports Illustrated, February 12, 1973.
  12. ^ Brady, Dave. "Colt Owner Irsay Fires GM Thomas," The Washington Post, Saturday, January 22, 1977.. Retrieved May 5, 2018
  13. ^ Marshall, Joe. "The Party Became a Lynching," Sports Illustrated, April 18, 1977.
  14. ^ "JOE THOMAS, A NOTED BUILDER OF MIAMI SUPERBOWL [sic] TEAMS". The New York Times. February 10, 1983. Retrieved November 6, 2013.