With USF Spring football now over, USFNation had a chance to talk with the Bulls new offensive Line Coach Mike Simmonds. Read part 1 of this exclusive interview to find out how he became a Bulls coach, what he brings to the USF staff, and more. Only on USFNation.com Get it First, Get it Fast!
Coach Mike Simmonds
"I've always been very impressed by what I've seen at South Florida. I've been a Tampa guy since 1987, and essentially watched the program start with coach Leavitt back in 96, and I've been in communication with coach Leavitt either with him recruiting players that I've coached or him conversing with me about the program itself. From a profession ional standpoint as a high school coach, I kind of have run the gambit so to say. I accomplished a lot, I went to the state championship three times. I wouldn't trade my high school experience for anything, but I was ready to try something different. Anybody that has been around Tampa and has watched South Florida's program grow, has seen how impressive it's been. When you look at it from the outside in, its very impressive, but when you really get here like I did last year, then you see how professional and how thorough everything's done its even more impressive."
"Those were the main factors in my deciding to become a college coach. I didn't have a desire to go out and be a college coach throughout the country. It's just that South Florida being such an impressive program right here in town, and I consider myself a Tampa guy. My whole family is from Florida, my wife was born here, and my kids were born here. Even though I met my wife back in Illinois, We consider ourselves Tampa people. I love the city, I love the community, and I have no desire to leave. So this was the perfect scenario for me to continue coaching football, go to the next level and stay in Tampa at the same time.'
When did you decide to join the Bulls staff?
Coach Leavitt asked me three different times to come up to South Florida. He's asked me when he started the program to come here and begin coaching. That was about four years into my high school coaching career that started around 92, and at that time. I had young children, a wife that was working but not doing as well as she's doing now. Then he asked me again a few years later about the time Wally Burnham came aboard. But again my children were still young, and we essential needed a third driver to make it work. So when he asked me again last year in January, my wife and me sat down and looked at all the scenarios. One, my daughter was 16 and driving and she could help out a lot more, plus my wife was doing a lot better at work.
How different is it to move from a graduate assistant to a head coach?
Simmonds: Well part of the process of learning to become a college coach is you have to pay your dues. In order to get into any program in America, you have to become a graduate assistant. If you look at a lot of people on the staff they started out as GA's. Coach Leavitt he was a GA for a couple of years, and that's just a right of passage, its part of the process and there's a lot to learn. Like any job you have to start out at the bottom and work your way up. The one thing about graduate assistants here, and this only place that I'm familiar with and that I know, but you're allowed to coach and be an active part of the team. I don't know how it's done at other places but you're given a lot of respect from coach Leavitt. I think part of that is that he went through that at Iowa and at Missouri when he was a graduate assistant, and he values the graduate assistants role, as not just doing the normal graduate assistant duties, but also as a coach that is going to have an impact on players on the field.
How does it feel to finally coach at this level?
"It feels great to be coaching. I think anybody who is in the profession of coaching, the reason you do it is to help young people out. I think every coach essentially is a frustrated athlete. He might not ever accomplish possibly what we thought we could have done, or hoped that we could have done, and we kind of live through our players. So if we get them to be successful, then we feel gratification form their success. There is nothing better then putting on your coaching gear on and going out on the field and working to try and get somebody better. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
When you joined the Bulls as a grad assistant last year, did you think you would be taking over as offensive line coach?
"I think Coach Frey is an excellent coach and did a great job, but that's the business. You have people that move on and he had an opportunity that he thought was best for him and he took it and it opened up something here for me. I didn't know if he would ever leave because he was so established here and was one of the first coaches here when it all began back in '96, and I know that was special to him, and everything happens for a reason. That door opened for me and that's the way life is. You got to be persistent, and work hard and good things will happen. "
How will your high school and NFL experience help you in coaching at this level?
"Anybody, no matter what you do in life, you area product of your experiences. No matter what they may be. So I've been very fortunate through my life to be involved with football. It's the greatest game going, but I've had some great teachers, who taught me a lot. Going back to my high school coach Bruce Arnold, who has passed away. He's the one that started it for me. I never started until my senior year in high school, and he stuck with me. My senior year I started, and before I even played a game yet, he told me I was going to be a scholarship player. It kind of happened over night for me, you hit a growing spurt, and you get ornery, and you get big at the same time, and everything worked out for me.
After that I went to Indiana State and became a four-year starter after redshirting my first year. I had a great Offensive line coach when I got there, Pete Hoenor who is now with the San Francisco 49er's too, used to be with the bears, he's an offensive line guy and a tight ends guy, and he was a great teacher. Going from high school to college is a big jump, and he helped shape me into a college player.
When I got to the pros, with the Buccaneers I had a guy named Larry Beightol who probably has over thirty years of experience in the NFL, and is another great coach, he has experience, and he has super bowl rings and all that. Then when I went to San Diego I had Alex Gibbs. I was hurt for a good amount that I was there, but I consider myself a good listener, and I still able to learn a lot from him.
With all those great teachers, I was able to take all that knowledge and use it when I began coaching high school as an assistant head coach at Hillsborough, with Earl Garcia. I learned a lot from Coach Garcia over the six years I was there until I became head coach at Jefferson in '98. My first year as head coach at Jefferson we went 2-8. Then we reached the playoffs the next seven straight seasons, including the 4A state title game in 2002 and the 3A state title game in 2004.
I'm now able to take all the knowledge, as a former NFL offensive lineman, plus all my high school coaching experiences with three state finals appearances, and use those different experiences to help teach kids here at South Florida.
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