Simmons brings winning attitude to FAMU
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
It was just a simple introduction of FAMU’s new head football coach, but there were so many expectations in the words of athletic director John Eason.
“We want a championship coach,” Eason said to the liking of the huge crowd that came to meet Willie Simmons. “Today I’m pleased to introduce our next championship head football coach.”
It was clear that Simmons, a 37-year-old Quincy native, got the message. Expectations are high for a program that has been struggling for the past five seasons.
He plans to meet those expectations.
“Get ready right now to win a MEAC championship,” Simmons said.
A lot of what Simmons has done as a successful assistant and head coach was ingrained early. Andy Gay, head coach at Quincy Shanks High School, was one of the first to notice.
As a middle school player, Simmons played receiver. His football IQ prompted Gay to move Simmons to quarterback when his high school starter went down with give games left in the 1996 season.
Simmons delivered despite the complicated offense that Gay ran at the time.
“Some of the things we did college teams are doing now,” Gay said. “Willie was like a sponge and he had a good grasp of what our philosophy was on offense.”
Simmons came back as starter the next two seasons, leading Shanks to its first district title in 22 years as a junior. He left Shanks as Big Bend Offensive Player of the Year, throwing for 2,505 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He was just as impressive when he played at Clemson, where he was named Rookie of the Week, following his first start.
After three seasons with the Tigers, he had a career total of 2,530 yards passing and 16 touchdowns in 24 games.
He played his final year of eligibility at The Citadel, after FAMU was unable to have him as a transfer. At the time, FAMU was making an unsuccessful bid to move to Division I football.
Simmons got his first stab at coaching following a year of playing Arena Football. He came home to coach at Lincoln for one year before embarking on a college coaching career.
“Once I started doing it, I just fell in love with it,” he said. “To see the impact that I had on the young guys’ life really showed me that this is my calling.”
Simmons is successful because he still retained a trait of never looking at anything as being difficult to try, said Ray Mathews, his quarterback coach at Shanks.
“He understood coverages and defenses at an early age,” Mathews said. “We ran a very sophisticated offense in high school because we able to with him.
“There were things we didn’t have to call because he made the adjustment on the fly. We would call something and he would be out there doing something different because he recognized something that the defense was doing.”
That’s still part of his coaching philosophy, obvious by what he did when he turned Prairie View A&M into a winning program in the SWAC. He did it with a blazing fast offense that ran a gulf coast scheme of spreading the field and making plays in space.
Sticking to seven principles will be important, he said, outlining them. “Faith, fundamentals, fast, fight, finish, fun and family,” he said, adding that each one represents a day of the week.
Simmons put a lot of emphasis on the fast principle.
“One senses when we talk about being fast, we are talking about having a sense of urgency,” he said. “We won’t procrastinate. We will be a group of individuals who do things timely and in order.
“On the other side, fasting; for all my Biblical scholars out there, it’s about sacrifice and giving something great of yourselves to a higher power.”
With the early signing deadline that was approaching (Dec. 20-22), Simmons’ focus was on recruiting. New players won’t be coming to be a part of a rebuilding process, he said, insisting that he is making a new team.
Every current player will have a shot at making that squad, he said.
“I’m excited to see what guys who haven’t played at all step up ( and do); what new guys come into the program and make a name for themselves,” he said. “Good thing about it is every man has a clean slate.”
As for his coaching staff, Simmons didn’t say which of Wood’s assistants he might keep on. However, he praised the recruiting effort of Edwin Pata, who was interim coach when Wood left.
When the pieces come together for the program under Simmons, FAMU will have a new look, Mathews predicted.
“He is going to do great things here,” he said. “Nothing that he does will surprise me.”