Throughout the past 30 years, Thomas Kelley has been many things to Framingham State University’s community.
Kelley’s current titles here at FSU include head football coach, athletic director, and alumnus.
Kelley grew up in Adams, where he started his football career at nine years old. He played both football and baseball in high school, and was captain of both teams his senior year. After graduating from Hoosac Valley High School, Kelley started his career at Framingham State University.
Kelley became part of the class of1972, the first residential co-ed class at FSU. He lived in Linsley Hall, along with the rest of the residential males at FSU. That same year he became a member of the FSU football team where he was a starting lineman all four years.
“I was on the first team…ever.”
While he originally had planned to play baseball at FSU, he decided not to because most of the games were during the week. “I wanted to focus on my academics,” he said.
In 1976, Kelley graduated with a degree in sociology and returned home to work in a lime mine for two years. “That had a great influence on me going back to school because I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”
In 1978, Kelley came back to FSU as the assistant football coach and enrolled at Boston State College, which no longer exists. He then received his master’s degree in psychology counseling.
Kelley was working as a counselor at Mass Bay as well as coaching part time when the athletic department decided to open a position for an athletic assistant. “We were expanding as an athletic program … so I applied and was fortunate enough to get the job.”
But the job came with a condition: Kelley could only be one or the other, so he gave up coaching and became the assistant AD for 11 years.
“I decided that I could help all the programs at my alma mater as the AD, especially the women’s sports.”
Kelley was given an opportunity to work even closer with women’s sports than he anticipated. In 1985, the head softball coach resigned suddenly, and the university didn’t have enough time to advertise the position to the public before the season started. Kelley, last minute, became the head coach of softball for four years.
In 1996, just as Kelley was coming up on 19 years as the assistant AD and 30 years with the university, the athletic director resigned.
The job was advertised to the public, and Kelley was one of many who applied for the position. Given his years of experience and great work with the university so far, Kelley was once again “fortunate enough” to be selected for the position as the head AD.
In 2007, the president of the university became concerned with the football program. The team had not achieved a winning season in nine years. “They won four games in five years,” said Kelley.
The coach resigned, and Kelley took over position as head football coach. From there, he said the team “pretty much started from scratch.” The roster only consisted of 28 guys at the time – the current roster consists of 100.
“That’s not competing; that’s trying to survive.”
Kelley went into his first preseason with only 17 guys trying out. “The one thing we had to do was get numbers. We were recruiting anybody who would wear a helmet at that point.”
Luckily, by Kelley’s first “real fall season,” the team had managed to recruit about 80 players. This year, the team has about 150 players at tryouts.
Kelley said he holds high expectations for the team this year. But due to a variety of reasons, some of his key players didn’t come back this season. “We are now trying to fill unanticipated gaps,” said Kelley, “I don’t want to say it’s been a struggle, but it wasn’t what we expected.”
Although the team lost some great assets this year, Kelley says he is confident in the roster he currently has. “We have a great bunch of guys working towards a common goal.”
Kelley’s key to success with the team, he says, is due to work ethic. “I’m certainly a dinosaur when it comes to football … I still think that the common denominator with success is hard work, and we certainly have guys that are up to the challenge.”
Captains Matt Silva, Nick Stanfield and Matt Mangano are some of the players that are “up to the challenge.”
“We have great leadership and that’s a big key in what we are doing.”
Kelley makes sure his players stay on task on and off the field. “I feel if we can get them through the freshman year, I kick them out of the nest,” Kelley said.
“I treat everyone like an adult, and everyone like a man, and with that comes responsibility.”
Freshman players attend a mentoring program which is broken down by major and run by upperclassmen through CASA. The mentors are available every Sunday and keep a folder with all the players’ syllabi in it, “that way they can say okay, you have a test in two weeks, do you need any help? Do you need to see a tutor?”
Additionally, on Monday and Thursday nights, freshmen and “players at risk” attend study hall, which is held for a couple of hours in the Whittemore Library. “I don’t ask the assistant coaches to proctor study hall, I don’t ask the captains, I proctor the study halls because I think it’s that important.”
By running study hall himself, Kelley said he gets to know the freshmen “up close and personal,” and gives them a chance to feel more comfortable with him. Ultimately, it leads them to be more likely to come and talk to him if they need help.
“I’m not going to hold their hands for four years, I will do it, but I think it’s part of the educational process.”
While having a winning season has been rewarding, Kelley said his greatest accomplishment so far is graduating his players. “The goal is to get them a degree and a job for when they get out of here, because not many are going to have the chance to play on Sunday.”
Kelley says while he isn’t coaching football, he enjoys time at home with his two grandsons, who he refers to as his “grand doubles.”
Kelley said football is not only his career, it’s his hobby. “My life is here. This is what I do, this is who I am, this is my passion.”