Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Tom Coombs

Catch Up with the Former Jets Tight End from Idaho

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Siri and Alexa weren't around to provide wake-up calls when the NFL held its Draft in 1982, but University of Idaho tight end Tom Coombs did receive the service from then-Jets head coach Walt Michaels.

"In my year, there was 12 rounds. The first day was one through six, and the second day was seven through 12. And, of course, one through six came and went," Coombs said. "So (my roommate and I) had a few drinks and went to bed a little late. Well, east coast time came up pretty early for round seven, and that's when I got drafted.

"I'm still in bed and I get a call. 'Hello, this is Coach Walt Michaels. Congratulations! We're drafting you to the New York Jets.' It was passed from him to Joe Walton, the offensive coordinator, and then through all the scouts. I said, 'Thank you, thank you. This is great,' and I hung up. I was so excited. It was a great wake-up call."

Coombs experienced a different kind of wake-up call when he and the other rookies were going through the opening week of the Jets' training camp.

"Here I am from the University of Idaho. No one knows where that is," Coombs laughed. "All these guys that were high draft choices, started getting on the bus with their letterman jackets on, and I'm sitting there in my t-shirt and shorts. I've never forgotten that.

"Getting to the second week of camp (with the veterans), Mickey Shuler and Jerome Barkum, those guys were not really a mentorship, so to speak, but they did extend an olive branch being that I was a tight end and, again, apparently because nobody knows where the University of Idaho is, I'm not a threat. They were nice about it and gave advice on the field on just how to navigate through maybe some of the politics which is a big landmine for a lot of people."

Coombs continued. "Another memory, so here I am, the first day of practice, I line up, and over me is All-Pro Mark Gastineau. Just a huge guy with a reputation. And so Richard Todd starts going through the count, and this son-of-a-gun fires off, jumps the count, slams into my helmet, and knocks me back off the line. I'm thinking he's giving me that 'welcome to the NFL, rookie' kind of attitude.

"The coach blows the whistle, '(Gosh darn it)! Gastineau, quit (messing) up my drill! Run it again!' So Mark's just digging in like a track star, and Todd starts going through the cadence. This time, screw Mark Gastineau! I jump offsides, hit him and knock him back. We get in a big tussle. I'm pulling one of the offensive tackles between us and yelling, 'Keep me away from him! Hold me back! Hold me back!' That whole kind of thing. Of course, he would have killed me if he had a chance.

"So then the coach goes, '(Gosh darn it), you're messing up my drill again! Aright, run it again, but to the left side. I'm kind of thinking, 'Yeah, OK, Mark. You can't get me now.'

"But now I have to go face-to-face against Joe Klecko. So I fire off and hit him so hard that his facemask kind of collapsed against his face and the chinstrap pops! And that's as far as he went. About two inches. He picks me up so my toes are dangling, then kind of waits for the ball-carrier to come, throws me aside like a ragdoll, and makes the tackle behind the line. That was Joe Klecko's 'welcome to the NFL.'"        

After making the team, Coombs and the other players around the league went on strike following the second game of the season. At that point, so soon into his career, did he know why they'd be picketing for what would turn out to be for 57 days?

"Yeah, I did," Coombs said. "But the rookies, we're just happy to make the team. And all of a sudden, it's oh, we're not going to play. So we're kind of sweating, thinking, man, we're going to get cut. We don't get a chance to prove ourselves. We don't want to do this. And then it was explained to us that it was for severance pay and a bunch of other things for current players and future players."

With a knee injury curtailing his career with the Jets to two seasons, it certainly wasn't as long as he would have hoped, but it was a period of his life that he looks back on fondly.

"I'm really proud that our team made it to the (1982) AFC Championship, I was proud to be part of that team even though we didn't win," Coombs said. "I really enjoyed being part of that camaraderie of that team during that time. It was an overall winning experience. We had some great players, both offense and defense, and I was happy to call them teammates."

Following football, armed with a marketing degree from Idaho, Coombs would earn an MBA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, double majoring in finance and quantitative analysis. It's an institution which requires its students to increase their language proficiency, and so Coombs learned Mandarin Chinese.

Taking a job as an account manager, Coombs lived and worked in Taiwan for two years.

"My territory was Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Mainland China," Coombs said. "I was working through distributors and original equipment manufacturers, selling manufacturing component parts and pieces. I loved it. It was part third world country, part not. I really enjoyed it."

After then working in commercial real estate and for a title insurance company, for the past 12 years, Coombs has enjoyed being a financial advisor for Edward Jones in San Jose, California.

His business was affected by COVID over the past several months, however unlike so many others, it wasn't in a bad way.

"Actually, my business had a record year over the pandemic. And the reason for that is people couldn't go out and spend their money. And historically, households had more savings than any time in history," Coombs said. "And so it was easier to bring money over to your accounts. But also, it was just sitting in cash. So I had an opportunity to grow their wealth, and the combination just turned into, financially, a great year."

Making his home in San Jose with his wife, Mithra, Coombs is happy that he's able to give back to his community through a number of local clubs including the San Jose Rotary.

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