In a business that naturally creates big egos, Thomas Cole is an exception.
For 33 years Cole has been Boyd-Buchanan's man behind the scenes, quietly helping the school's athletic program progress from a fledgling operation to one competing for state championships in multiple sports.
He has coached football, boys' and girls' basketball, baseball and tennis and assisted in other sports, and for the last 22 years he has been the school's athletic director. During that time Boyd-Buchanan has won state titles in five sports, and Cole has been content to stand proudly in the shadows, allowing others to soak up the spotlight.
"Thomas realized early on the benefit of having a strong athletic program and how it would help the school, and he always made sure it took those steps by the rules without the shortcuts that can get you into trouble," said former TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter, noting that Cole's first year at the school was also the first year it offered varsity sports.
"Thomas always seemed OK with his role of remaining in the background and just overseeing things quietly. The greatest compliment I could pay him is that I remember when Boyd-Buchanan's sports were barely a blip on the screen and now they compete at a very high level in about every sport."
Cole has announced that he is retiring at the end of this school year, and one week later he and his wife, Rose, will begin seasonal jobs at Yellowstone National Park. Cole will serve as a recreation coordinator, where he will use many of the skills he's developed working at Boyd-Buchanan and organize activities and intramural sports for the park's 1,500 employees.
The move will allow Cole and his wife to be much closer to their son, who currently works as a photographer in Montana.
"Instead of three days away, we'll only be a few hours from him now," Cole said. "We decided that since we're both still in good physical condition, this is something we wanted to experience. I came to Boyd-Buchanan because I was interested in working in a Christian environment and I liked the challenge of getting a new athletic program off the ground in every sport.
"Considering where we were when we started, it was hard to see what we've become. It was always my goal to have success in every sport, but only if we could do things the right way. It's been like watching your kids grow up and have success."
Before Cole can move west, he has a bit of unfinished business remaining here. Boyd-Buchanan has several possible state-tournament qualifiers in tennis, and the baseball and soccer Buccaneers also are still in the running for spots in the Spring Fling.
Regardless of how his final season ends as AD, and despite the pride of watching Boyd-Buchanan athletes compete in 19 team or individual state championship events, Cole most fondly will remember teams from the early years in his career.
"I've always considered myself to be something of an overachiever," Cole said. "So I always identified with those kids or teams that weren't overly talented but worked hard and overachieved. That's what Boyd-Buchanan was early on, and I'm proud to have been a part in helping the school grow into what we are now."