By Jim Gehman
Joe Paterno, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer and Tony Dungy – Thompson played for and learned from each of these head coaches.
“I wasn’t a high-round draft pick, so every team that I played for, I had to make the team each year,” said Thompson, who was chosen by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 1991 Draft. “I’m proud that I competed with the best in the world on four different teams and I’m proud that most of the teams that I was on won. They were competing for championships in their divisions, but also for Super Bowls. And I’m proud of the relationships that I made and that I still have today with players and coaches.
“I’ve made more money in business than I ever made in the NFL. And I contribute that to the lessons that I learned from Joe Paterno, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells, in the fact that you knew how far to push your body, you knew work ethic, you understand how important every facet of the team is to, yes, sports.
“You appreciate that as a project manager or an executive director or a business owner, you have a value for the secretary, you have a value for the architect, you have a value for the mail carrier because they’ve got to get it there on time. Any of those processes fail along the way, it could cost you, not just a game, it could cost you how you feed your family. It could cost you your business.
“So having a diverse exposure experience from not just coaches, but every last coach that I played for are in the Hall of Fame or on their way to it. So I can speak from the same exposure as if I’m Joe Paterno, as if I’m Tony Dungy, as if I’m Bill Cowher or Marty Schottenheimer or Bill Parcells. I can speak as if I’m them because I played under them and I was able to get a birds-eye view of how they dealt with men, how they carried themselves with their families, how they treated a superstar versus this person.”
Returning to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee in 1997, Thompson owns LeRoy Thompson Consultants, a business that specializes in public and private development strategies. His post-playing life mirrors the diverse journey he experienced while playing in the NFL.
“I was running an inner-city nonprofit (Thompson’s Team Dream Foundation, which I started while still playing) that rehabbed inner-city homes for disadvantaged families,” Thompson said. “A gentleman on my board, Bob Talbott, was one of the founding real estate developers for Wal-Mart. He wanted to diversify from building these big boxes and do things in the inner-city and thought I had the gift traits because of how well I ran the nonprofit to be a real estate developer. So he offered me an opportunity to go into business with him.
“He allowed me to prospect my own builds, taught me cash flow and how to budget for small-box, large-box real estate. He had a property management company and a construction company, so I got a 10-year education all in one year. Wherever he went to finance deals, he took me with him so I could watch how the deals were crafted and put together. We went into business and three years later we were doing so well that I bought his 40 percent of the company out and went out 100 percent on my own.
“When the world went upside down and the banking industry and stock market almost crashed in 2008, the businesses crashed with it. I was able to sustain it.
“And then the governor of Tennessee [Bill Haslam] appointed me to be the regional director for the state’s economic and community development department (in 2012). I did that and found out that while I enjoyed being alongside politicians, I did not want to be one. So I served a couple of years.
“One thing you do in government, you build networks and contacts and relationships with all of these manufacturers and vendors. So while I was transitioning, they had problems and things they were trying to do and so I started a consulting firm to do project management, business development, those kinds of projects.
“I knew the issues; I knew the problems they were having. So I offer consulting contracts to help them fill their gaps. Whether that’s marketing their product, doing community development, real estate development, project management, government affairs, any of those things within that economic development sector.”