Steve Wilks did not know Mike Thompson, but that didn't stop the Cardinals' head coach from reaching out to Thompson's widow recently after Thompson's unexpected death. Thompson was a Pop Warner coach and an assistant for Desert Ridge High School, and was only 51 years old.
"I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mike but feel as if I did after reading of his dedication to the sport of football as a coach at the Pop Warner and high school levels," Wilks wrote in the letter to Carri Thompson. "We share in your grief over his loss but know that he lives on through the countless individuals that have been positively impacted by Mike."
The letter meant a ton to Thompson's family. It also underscored the type of person Wilks is, and how he keeps football in perspective.
At one point, when I was talking to Wilks for a story about who he is as a coach, Wilks emphasized his desire to let players know they have to have a life that goes beyond football. There was a famous story of Wilks as an assistant in Carolina striking up a relationship with a disabled man who worked at his local YMCA, not for the fanfare but because it just seemed like a good thing to do.
"I tell people all the time, and it's the same thing I try to relate to the players," Wilks said. "(Football) is what we do. This is not who we are."
No, Wilks didn't know Mike Thompson. But he knew what it meant for Thompson to put time in to teach children -- and that his family is hurting right now. In a broader sense, that's what Wilks was talking about in that interview a few months ago.
"I want to bring world championship here," Wilks said. "But the true measurement of a champion does not lie within his or her trophy case. It lies within the people he or she has touched. If we're not trying to make a difference in the lives of the people we come in contact with, to me, we're missing the point."