Simmons named to ESPN’s 45 minority coaches under 45

Willie Simmons

Special to the Outlook

Consecutive winning seasons has always made coaches the target of programs with vacancies to fill. Willie Simmons is proof, as South Carolina pursued him 19 months ago.

While Simmons decided to stay at FAMU, the chase for his services might not be over – especially now that he has been recognized by ESPN as one of the top 45 minority coaches under 45 to watch for future Division I head-coaching jobs.

Simmons is staying put this season as the Rattlers start fall camp is set to begin on July 29. The team plays its season-opener at North Carolina on Aug. 27.

In a recent article written by ESPN’s senior writer Adam Rittenberg, he had this to say about Simmons:

“Other than Jackson State’s Deion Sanders, Simmons is the HBCU coach generating the most buzz for FBS jobs after nearly landing the Florida International gig in December. Simmons is 45-21 as an FCS coach with top-25 finishes in the past two seasons that the Rattlers competed. The former Clemson quarterback has FBS coordinator experience at Middle Tennessee.

“I’m a huge Willie Simmons fan,” a Power 5 coach said. “He’s got a tremendous upside.”

Added a Power 5 athletic director: “I can definitely see him as a Group of 5 head coach as a next step.”

Rattler football has seen tremendous success under Simmons with back-to-back top-25 seasons (2019 and 2021). In 2021, Coach Simmons coached the Rattlers to their first FCS Playoffs appearance in 20-plus seasons after finishing the regular season with a 46-21 win in the Florida Blue Florida Classic over Bethune-Cookman. 

Simmons has also coached the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award (National Defensive Player of the Year) winner in Isaiah Land after leading the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. Land also won the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. Simmons has coached two conference Player of the Year winners (Ryan Stanley, 2019 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and Land, 2021 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also coached 29 All-Conference honorees and 12 student-athletes who made 33 postseason All-American teams.

Meanwhile, Land, and Xavier Smith have been named to the East-West Shrine Bowl 1000 list.

“Markquese Bell set the bar pretty high last year as a bonafide NFL prospect, and Isaiah and Xavier have picked up where he left off,” said coach Simmons. “They are well deserving of being on the watch list of the East-West Shrine Bowl, one of the most reputable college football all-star games out there. They’ve worked for these moments their entire careers, and it’s great to see it finally paying off with this kind of recognition!”

Land returns to FAMU after leading the nation in sacks (19) and tackles for loss (25.5), earning the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s best defensive player. Land went on to be named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, All-SWAC First Team, and was named to six All-American lists. Land also set a new single-game sack record after recording five in the 30-7 win versus South Carolina State. 

Smith is coming back after leading the team with 64 receptions for 713 yards. Smith also ranked 21st in the nation averaging 5.8 receptions per game. Smith recorded 50-plus receiving yards eight times last year (73 vs. FVSU, 139 at USF, 62 vs. ASU, 72 vs. GSU, 77 at Southern, 103 at UAPB, 82 vs. BCU, 87 at SLU). In 2019, Smith finished the season on four All-American lists after he finished fifth in receiving yards per game (105.4), ninth in receptions per game (7), tenth in receiving yards (1,159), and 16th in receiving touchdowns (11).

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