RUNNING THE OPTION

A former Catamount standout gets his foot in the NFL coaching door through a minority fellowship program

By BOB BERGHAUS

Clyde Simmons ’96 is on the short list of Western Carolina’s greatest football players. Following a college career in which he led the Catamounts to their only appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) title game in 1983, Simmons (right, making a tackle for the Cats) went on to a 15-year NFL career, compiling 1211/2 sacks as a defensive end while playing with Philadelphia, Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati and Jacksonville.

Clyde Simmons ’96, left, at commencement with Chancellor
John Bardo and right, making a tackle for the Catamounts.

He returned in the mid-1990s to earn his degree (left, at commencement with Chancellor John Bardo) and eventually retired from the NFL in 2000. He worked for a mortgage company and was a probation officer, content to be away from football. But last year he got the itch to return and applied for one of the NFL’s minority coaching fellowships. He wound up with the New York Jets because their coach, Buddy Ryan, was familiar with Simmons. “He’s an expert. He’s a guy that clearly the players would look up to and they’d respect,” Ryan recently told the New York Times. “I had him in Arizona, and he was a leader back then for me when I was coaching defensive line. I thought he’d bring that to us, and he has. He’s been outstanding.”

Simmons, 46, works with the Jets’ defensive linemen and has been credited with helping them become better pass rushers. “I’ve learned a lot of things just from the little time I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s been a great working atmosphere. These guys come to work every day. I’ve been in places where the coaches don’t get along, and it boils over to the players.”

Dennis Thurman, the Jets’ secondary coach, believes Simmons has a future in coaching. “They know you from when you played, but they don’t know your skill set as a coach,” Thurman said of the merits of the fellowship. “You’re a name, but you’re not someone that coaches have had the opportunity to work with. But he does have a measure of respect. They know who he is. If you do not know who he is, then you’re not a real football fan.”

Steve White ’67, former sports information director for Western Carolina, is thrilled Simmons is back in the NFL, and that Simmons has been good to his alma mater. “He bought a complete set of uniforms (solid purple) for the team in the mid-90s,” White said. “He also contributed significantly to several special projects and a scholarship fund.”

Simmons said in the New York Times story he will stay as long as the Jets will have him. Four NFL head coaches are graduates of the minority fellowship: Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati, Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay, Lovie Smith of Chicago and Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh.  “It’s a great way of getting on-the-job training,” Simmons said. “It builds your résumé. But I’m also enjoying what I’m doing.”

Used in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.