Q&A with Coach Al Simmons

The cornerback position on ASU's football team is defined by inexperience. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Sun Devils hired a seasoned veteran in Al Simmons , who coached both at the college and professional level. In this exclusive Devils Digest interview Simmons talks about his transition to Tempe and the challenges that lie ahead of him and his group.

DevilsDigest: Coach, you've been here on the job several weeks now – how do you like life in Tempe on and off the job?

Al Simmons: "I'm very excited to be here. This is a place where I always looked at from afar and said to myself that I would like to coach here one day. I have a great group of guys to work with, both in the staff and the players, and I think we have a chance to do some good things here. The Phoenix area is a great place to live, so from both the football and the non-football aspect I'm very happy to be here."

DD: Do you believe that the fact that you're a west coast guy, who coached in this part of the country both in the college and professional ranks, makes the transition to Arizona State that much smoother?

AS: "I believe so. I'm pretty familiar with the teams we'll face in the Pac-10 and the offensive schemes that they will run. From a recruiting standpoint, I'm very familiar with the Bay Area and Northern California, as well as Oregon and Washington, and I have a lot of connections in those areas."

DD: Looking at your resume, you for the most part, played defensive back and coached that same position as well. Are you a big believer in having a position coach coaching the same position he played in?

AS: "I think it helps, but a big part of it is really going out and learning as much as you can about coaching the position. I played most of my career at linebacker and finished up at safety. For a guy who just started coaching and has less than five years, I would say that it's pretty critical that he coaches the position that he played in. But after doing it for a while it's not that critical."

DD: As a 20-year coaching veteran, I assume that you're probably not a big believer in the saying ‘you can't teach an old dog new tricks' ?

AS: "That's true. You have to have that mentally as a coach to never be stubborn or complacent with the way you coach. You can go listen to someone who has only coached five years and still get something new out of it. When you're around people who coach the same position as you, you can always learn."

DD: Granted, the college and pro game are different in nature. Having said that, what aspects of the NFL game can you apply to the college level?

AS: "It wouldn't be overall schemes, but some subtleties in terms of reads and technique can help college players diagnose quicker, play faster and improve them technically. It also shows you how crucial it is to learn the opponent and see what he does so you can be prepared."

DD: You're stepping into an interesting situation, where you're looking at the 2005 cut-ups of your position and seeing that most of the players on film have exhausted their eligibility and are longer with the program. How do evaluate all the new faces that haven't received that much playing time last year?

AS: "One thing I do see from the cut-ups is that a lot of guys played and got some experience. Whenever you have a coaching change, your players will be hungry to show you what they can do. So those guys are motivated because they're trying to impress a new coach and they know that the position is wide open. Those are reasons for them to try and outperform the other players each time they step on the field. It's a plus for me and a plus for everybody else at the position."

DD: How about the cornerbacks that have just enrolled this semester in Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney – how would you assess their skills?

AS: "I've had a chance to look at those guys conditioning, watching them move, change direction and things of those nature and I think they look like they belong here. They have a lot of quickness and it will be interesting to see them compete against the returning guys."

DD: There has been trend in recent years, and it's obviously a very logical one, to try and recruit the six feet and over cornerbacks who can match-up physically with the wide receivers who seem to be getting taller all the time. What's your take on that cornerback trend? How crucial is it to have the physical cornerback?

AS: "In an ideal world you would love to have the cornerback who's 6-1 or 6-2. But I still think you can get it done with the 5-9 or 5-10 guys. Obviously, the important thing with the 5-9 guy is making sure that he can jump and compete for the ball when it's in the air. But really no matter how tall you are, it's all about being able to compete, being aggressive and making plays. You may not get the ball when it's on its way up, but you can make plays when it's on its way down and the receiver is trying to tuck it away and run with it. Most of the time you won't have the tall corner, I only had one 6-1 guy in my coaching career (laughs) but you can still get the job done."

AS: With the explosive offenses that the Pac-10 features, being a cornerback in this conference can be a very thankless job. How do you view that theory and compare it to cornerback who plays in a conference predicated more on rushing the ball?

DD: "I look at it as an opportunity to showcase yourself. There will always be a lot of talent on the other side of the ball, but most guys will look at that as a chance to go out and compete against some good players. The position coaches also relish the opportunity to go out there week after week and try to shut down the passing attacks of the Pac-10."

DD: With spring practice just a couple of weeks away, what goals would you like the cornerback group to achieve?

AS: "Right now it's about taking baby steps and being patient. They want to improve, they're excited about me being here helping them, but I want them to realize that it won't happen overnight. I want us to get better as a group from a technique standpoint, be more disciplined with assignments, and just be overall consistent. I'm looking forward to seeing theses guys grow and be better from a technical aspect and an execution aspect."

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