LAKE CHARLES, La. - Fred Thomas, a fixture in the McNeese State athletic department for more than 30 years, passed away Monday night.
He had been a member of the McNeese Cowboy football team as an equipment manager since 1990 and he worked as a volunteer.
Called “Mr. Fred” by coaches and players alike, he began his tenure when Bobby Keasler was head coach and he would go on and work when Kirby Bruchhaus, Tommy Tate, Matt Viator, Lance Guidry and Sterlin Gilbert were the leaders.
A McNeese athletic supporter since the 1970s, Thomas had become a booster when Jack Doland took over as athletic director and head football coach. He served as president of the university’s Cowboy Club (1978 and 1979) and was a regular at home and away games for both football and basketball.
His association as a member of the football equipment management staff began, he would say later, when “Bobby (Keasler) said he needed someone to drive the equipment truck for football. I told him I would do it because I needed something to do.”
Thomas, who had retired in 1988 from running a furniture business, said that he played golf for most of 1989 and got tired of playing golf.
In the 1970s, Thomas had also begun a longtime friendship with assistant coach Hubert Boales who recruited the Southeast Texas area for football.
“Back then it wasn’t against the rules to have a booster ride along with you on scouting and recruiting trips,” Boales said. “Fred and I became good friends, we played a lot of golf together and I got him to make trips with me to games and visit recruits. Besides, Fred had a big Caldillac that he would drive. I know that he always said that I would be asleep when we reached the top of the I-210 bridge headed west, but that’s not true.”
Thomas became a permanent member of the Cowboy football program in 1990 after Keasler told him he was looking for a driver for the equipment truck.
“All one needed back then to drive a truck was a chauffer’s license and I had one,” Thomas had said.
At the time Thomas also told then athletic director Bob Hayes that he would handle the job for $1 a year. But, he never did receive the salary.
During his time with the Cowboys he has mainly been an assistant equipment manager but he also several several years as the head equipment manager.
Communications for the Cowboy coaches from the sidelines to the press box for football games became a priority with Thomas with him setting up the equipment and spending game time in the press box to make sure nothing goes wrong.
In later years he had to cut back on travel and the trips but he retained a press box seat at home games through the 2018 season. At one time he had been on the sidelines or in the press box for 265 straight McNeese football games.
He assisted seven different equipment managers in his 30 years beginning with Bernie Burns then to Ronny Breaux, C.J. Hernandez, Nick Boudreaux, Drew Smith, Jimmy Waltman, and Matt Saucier, as well as countless team managers that he made a impact in their lives.
Thomas, who was elected to the McNeese Hall of Honor in 1991, passed away at the age of 87.
Funeral arrangements are pending.