In the conversation of who is the best college lacrosse coach of all time, Pat McCabe (Syracuse 91’) makes a strong case for Coach Simmons.
“If I have one game to win and I want a team to be motivated, prepared, excited, and to understand the moment I would take Roy Simmons Jr. I would put him in the locker room with any team, in any era, at any time and I know for certain that team is going to come out flying.”
This week we honor the Hall of Fame and legendary Syracuse University Coach, Roy Simmons Jr. This man has had such a huge impact on the Powell Family and so many lacrosse people across the globe. The inventor, the teacher, the leader, the father, the heart, the soul, the artist and the coach has passed on so many incredible lessons to all those who have had the pleasure to meet him.
We at Powell Lacrosse decided to do a tribute week as a way of saying thank you to Coach Simmons. We want to teach today’s young players about his impact on the sport, to share stories about him, and to do our best to give back to the game like he has for decades.
Coach Simmons greatly respects the Native American origins of lacrosse and often played on the Onondaga Reservation. He admires the craft of making wooden sticks and the artistry they take to create. He instilled that respect for the game into his players throughout his coaching career.
Coach Roy Simmons Jr.’s accomplishments on the field speak for themselves:
-Head Coach of the Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse Program from 1971 to 1998 amassing a record of 290-96
-The 1980 Coach of the Year, went to 16 Consecutive Final Fours, coached 130 All-Americans, and a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame
-National Championships: 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995
The son of a coach, Roy Simmons Jr. has been a part of Syracuse sports since he was a boy cheering on the Orange as his father, Roy Simmons Sr., coached the football, boxing, and lacrosse teams. After an All-American career playing lacrosse for his father alongside teammates like Jim Brown and Oren Lyons, “Slugger” coached the freshmen team for several years before becoming head coach upon Roy Simmons Sr.’s retirement.
A sculptor and artist, Coach Simmons could see the art in sports and the sport in arts. He found ways to bring players together from all walks of life to form successful teams. He built his teams like a fine piece of art.
“They’re collages. I’ve got a frame, and within those confines I have to go out and find the medium, the players: boys who are defensively very agile, quick ones talented at shooting, others good at dodging without the ball or stopping shots. And the talent must work as a team, not a one-man show.”
Standing stoically on the sideline in his white ball cap, Coach Simmons would orchestrate his players like a composer or a painter working on a canvas. He taught his players to understand that lacrosse was meant to be played with creativity and without fear. Even in the big moments like the 6 National Championship games he won, he layed out a simple plan and then let his players go to work. He had complete faith in everyone he put on the field.
Names like Donahue, Kotz, Nelson, Zulberti, Gait, McCabe, Lockwood, Colsey, and Powell would take the game to a new level of creativity because Coach Simmons let them explore those new ways to score, throw checks, and play lacrosse. We may never have seen the Air Gait, behind the back cross field passes, or the signature run and gun style of Syracuse lacrosse without him.
He used his artistic and worldly background to teach his players more than just how to win on the lacrosse field.
Pat McCabe explains that “we won a lot of games and we were one of the greatest teams of all time, but what I think about when I consider my relationship and my time with Simmie is not about playing the game. It’s about preparing for the game of life.”
On road trips Coach would take them to Broadway Musicals, museums, and places that would open them up to new experiences. They didn’t get it at the time and definitely wanted to be doing something else, but they were always glad Coach made them go after it was over.
He brought the 1995 National Championship winning team to Scotland to visit Lockerbie where a plane crash had killed 259 passengers including 35 Syracuse students and 11 people on the ground 7 years earlier. They played against Team England and did clinics for the locals. Then they would stay up late having fun only two weeks removed from winning the championship. It wasn’t until they visited the town and met the people that they understood why Coach brought them there.
Jim Morrissey (Syracuse 96’) remembers how “Coach brought this amazing wreath made out of wooden lacrosse sticks in remembrance for the victims. To see the townspeople from Lockerbie and how emotional they still were. We got emotional. It was a wake up call. It made us grow up a little bit and realize why we were there and what Coach Simmons was all about.”
That ability to help his players see that there was more to life beyond the lines of a lacrosse field was what made Coach Simmons so different.
Former Johns Hopkins defenseman and head coach Dave Pietramala puts it well explaining that “maybe the thing that I admire most is Coach Simmons’ willingness to be his own man in a sport where there are very few of those.”
Follow along this week on our social media as you will also hear from past players, opposing coaches, and others he has impacted such as Pat McCabe, Ric Beardsley, Matt Palumb, Jim Morrissey, Bill Tierney, Dom Starsia, Dave Pietramala, and others recalling the great games and championships, but more importantly the memories that made him such a special person.
Coach Simmons’ impact on the game is immeasurable as his love of lacrosse was passed on to his players who then passed it on to thousands of men and women around the world. He will continue to be a great inspiration to the lacrosse community and we can’t wait to see him back watching games at the Carrier Dome.
“I hope you all have an amazing hunger for life. May your lives be filled with blue skies and green lights.” -Roy Simmons Jr.
Thank you for everything Coach Simmons.