posted on Monday, March 23, 2020
John Wayne and the old westerns have always been a favorite of mine. I read the book, “The Code of the West” by James P Owen. As I read the code, I couldn’t help but think of Coach Thomas. The values and character of the Old West remind me of the things he would share with his teams or with an audience when he spoke at a school, a clinic or to a group.
The Cowboy Code of Ethics is more than knowing right from wrong, it was living up to a set of standards and principles. It is a combination of the Golden Rule, discipline, dedication and a strong work ethic. That is the same message Coach Thomas tried to teach and live.
CODE OF THE WEST
LIVE EACH DAY WITH COURAGE
TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR WORK
ALWAYS FINISH WHAT YOU START
DO WHAT HAS TO BE DONE
BE TOUGH, BUT FAIR
WHEN YOU MAKE A PROMISE – KEEP IT
RIDE FOR THE BRAND
TALK LESS AND SAY MORE
REMEMBER THAT SOME THINGS AREN’T FOR SALE
KNOW WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE
1. LIVE EACH DAY WITH COURAGE There is more to courage than doing dangerous things like cowboys in the Old West. Courage includes “standing up and speaking out” when something isn’t right, even if that means going against what others are doing. Doing what is right no matter what the situation, time or place. Actions mean more than words. Coach Thomas lived it each and every day.
2. TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR WORK If there is a job to be done, no matter how humble, DO IT. Cowboys had many jobs and most were not glamorous, but each one needed to be done to the best of their ability. Coach Thomas lived this when he mowed, cared for and protected the football field, the Sacred Acre. Be great every day in every way, not just on game day!
3. ALWAYS FINISH WHAT YOU START Cowboys hated quitters and they hated whining and complaining almost as much. When things are tough, that is when the real work started. That is when everyone is expected to give their best effort. Again, Coach Thomas lived this point on the Old West code when he was one of the leaders in the cleanup and rebuilding of Parkersburg after the tornado. That is one of the ultimate examples of this attitude.
4. DO WHAT HAS TO BE DONE Stand up for what is right wherever you see it. It is not always easy to do the right thing. Coach Thomas washed and cleaned uniforms after the games. He did the little things around the school and behind the scenes. He understood that “not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted."
5. BE TOUGH, BUT FAIR On the open range, it was the cowboy’s duty to give those they encountered a helping hand. They depended on helping each other when there was a shortage of water or food. I know Coach Thomas provided cleats to quite a few players over the years. He expected his athletes to help the community. Again, this came back as so many teams and communities helped Parkersburg after the tornado destroyed so many homes, the school, and athletic fields.
6. WHEN YOU MAKE A PROMISE – KEEP IT A cowboy is only as good as his word. They worked for poor pay and few benefits, but followed orders and completed their job. Commitment was an expectation of every person or player in the Falcon program. That was a message every day in practice and in the offseason. Coach Thomas had high standards and expectations and each person wanted to live up to them.
7. RIDE FOR THE BRAND A cowboy was extremely loyal to the owner of the cattle. They had the brand to identify their stock. Coach Thomas asked his players and students, “Where ya from?” That was a question and statement at almost every practice. Loyalty to the A-P Falcons was encouraged by Coach Thomas during the season and in his classroom.
8. TALK LESS AND SAY MORE “Actions speak louder than words.” That was especially true in the Old West. In Coach Thomas’ case, it is not what you say, it is what you do that is important. “What you are speaks so loudly, we can’t hear what you say.” You knew what Coach Thomas believed and what he stood for by his actions. It wasn’t always what he said but how he made you feel. He had the ability to motivate and make people accomplish more than they thought possible.
9. REMEMBER THAT SOME THINGS AREN’T FOR SALE The best things in life aren’t things. Since they had very little, cowboys did not really care about possessions. Things that really matter are inside of you and the people that stand by you, not things that you buy. Those shoes, clothes or possessions will be gone after a short time. Like Coach Thomas, keep your priorities in the proper order – FFF (faith, family, football) became a way to identify that idea.
10. KNOW WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE The Cowboy way of life had clear lines between right and wrong. Unfortunately, it is easy to say and hard to live up to those standards. To Coach Thomas, football and athletics became a valuable classroom for learning the lessons of life. Character and integrity were two traits that were critical. Coach said many times that better people make better athletes, better students, better parents, better employers and employees.
This Code of the West is the basic principles of right and wrong, the core values of courage, honor, integrity and self-control. This is the same foundation that Coach Thomas tried to build in his athletes and students. Team chemistry and culture is something that is a popular topic in athletics these days. It is hard to explain or define, but it’s definitely something that you can see and feel on a team. Wearing the same jerseys does not make a team– it’s a feeling and a bond that must be built from within. Coach Thomas had a great way of developing and building team chemistry. While it was something that he understood, he continued to study and learn more about building culture. While not a cowboy in the true sense of the word, Coach Thomas lived up to that code.
Here is the Cowboy Prayer that is used before many rodeos.
“We do ask, Lord, that you will help us live our lives here on earth as cowboys, in such a manner, that when we make that last inevitable ride to the country up there, where the grass grows lush, green, and stirrup high, and the water runs cook, clear and deep, that you’ll take us by the hand and say, Welcome to Heaven cowboy, your entry fees are paid.”
What are the points of this code that you already practice? What ones do you need to work on? Think of the Code of the West the next time you need to make a decision.
Neil Phipps & the Ed Thomas Family Foundation
This post is written by Neil Phipps. Neil taught and coached for 39 years, and worked with Coach Thomas at football camps, football clinics, on the Iowa Football Coaches Association Board of Directors, and as a coach in the Shrine Game. Neil and his family are also close friends to the Thomas and Kerns families.