Any coach who spends a quarter century in charge of one program figures to make a sizable impact, both on the institution and on his former players. But even by that standard, Tommy Thomsen’s legacy—as measured by the words of so many of his former players—is a remarkable one.
“He’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Bill Lewis ’68 says. “We had incredible respect for Tommy,” Paul Doty ’68 says. “Next to my dad,” Dan Hans ’75 says, “he was probably the most influential man in my life.”
As head coach of the Big Red lacrosse team from 1966 to 1990, Thomsen took a pretty good program and turned it into a powerhouse. His teams went 255–97 in 25 seasons, producing 45 All-Americans, virtually none of whom he ever bothered to recruit. Lewis and Hans were two of the best—talented athletes who came to college as lacrosse novices before Thomsen transformed them into stars.
Thomsen’s acumen was so persuasive that Lewis remembers referees occasionally deferring to the coach’s judgment mid-game. But Thomsen’s most impressive trait might have been the quiet resolve with which he lived his own life and the example he set in the process. He lived with a congenital spinal deformity that caused constant discomfort and about which no one seems to have ever heard him complain. Hans remembers playing handball with his coach and watching him dive for the ball, “even though he could barely walk.” For Doty, the image that sticks is the sight of Thomsen changing shoes in the locker room, removing his orthopedic shoes to reveal socks soaked in blood.
Thomsen, who died in 2012 at age 80, will be inducted in December into the International Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Hall of Fame. For his players, the honor is long overdue. “We never doubted what he told us to do,” Doty says. “We would have followed him anywhere.”