DL Coach Sims Loves To Teach and Preach

The Fighting Illini football team has brought in some outstanding athletes for its defensive line. But those players need someone to bring out their full potential. Defensive line coach Tom Sims is ideally suited for that role. Watching him in action during practice can be as fun as watching his charges.

The man with the big voice and dynamic personality works his men hard. They go full-out every day, so when the fourth quarter arrives, they are accustomed to giving maximum effort despite tiredness. Many coaches work their players hard, but Sims is able to get his men to like it. He is stern at times, playful at times, but a dedicated instructor all the time.

Coach Sims teaches during every repetition. "Work on a good step, having a base...Step through and replace. Gain ground with that step...Think low to the ground...I want you going full speed. Go back and do it again...Everything tight?...What are you hopping around for? It's a pass, go low and hard. It's a dead out sprint...

"Don't pop up, fire out and attack the line of scrimmage. Fire low and hard, close the distance...Good retrace, good plant, and get down the line...Prepare to work and keep your body clean...You're fast, practice fast...See how you missed the hands? You've gotta get the hands...Bring it up and get a drink."

Even when he's serious, he doesn't take himself too seriously, as his frequent giggles attest. His players will run through walls for him because they know he always cares about them.

He wants them to take the game seriously, but he wants them to love beating offensive linemen, making tackles and harassing quarterbacks. More than anything, he wants them to have fun.

He encourages his players to be playful and celebrate even minor successes to keep their spirits up. For example, Antonio James may occasionally celebrate a sack with a cartwheel. Once, Jerry Brown bet he could jump over the top of a tackling dummy and then did it.

But possibly his best teaching aide is to know when to add humor and compliments to hard work. A few examples follow:

"You're already ugly as hell, you don't need to do that."

"Come on, you're messing up my rhythm, be quick."

"See the difference? You might make some money with that."

"Good work, good tempo."

"Don't be back here counting your dreadlocks, look and learn. See what others do right and wrong."

"We got some hostility, huh pop? I like that."

"We didn't bring you all the way up from Miami to not hit."

"I like that. You're first team all drill."

"There's too much positivity in your life right now."

"You didn't get no blood on my dummy, did you?"

Sims uses constructive punishments when necessary to remind players of mistakes they made. These all require physical exertion, helping them to maintain optimum conditioning. Tom doesn't hold a grudge toward his players, but they don't wish to repeat their mistakes.

Perhaps his favorite punishment exercise is what's known as "up-downs." A player runs in place, then plops down onto the ground on his belly, then gets up and repeats until told to stop. Usually, the number is five or less. But on a hot day after some hard work, they can be strenuous.

He sometimes uses the drill just to keep his players focused and in shape. He may say, "Start choppin'," for almost any reason, even if he has to make up an excuse.

"Who's blocking my sun? Start choppin'."

"How did this old man beat you over here? Start choppin'."

"Start choppin'. He tried to knock me over on the sled. We've got a couple freshman insurgents over here."

Even when it's used for punishment, he encourages innovation among the players. One lineman rolled over before getting back up from an up-down, causing Sims to respond, "You showed me some style on that. Good work."

Another tool Sims uses is to make his charges get into a push-up position and then keep them there until they tire. This teaches discipline while aiding conditioning. At times like this, he shares his "Heisman speech," the one he would have given had he won the award.

"For years, we've been called to a higher goal. Great men, men of vision have shown leadership. Men like me. Where did it start? Well, I was born in Detroit, on a farm in the projects. The son of a sharecropper. One day destined for greatness..."

It continues on from there. It will last until he thinks his men have had enough. It doesn't take long before his players wish to avoid hearing the speech ever again. Motivation can be found in many ways, and this is one of Coach Sims' favorites.

Great teachers are born, not made. Coach Tom Sims is one of the former, and the proof is there to behold every Saturday during football season.

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