Simmons, Roy, Jr.
Roy Simmons, Jr.
American college lacrosse coach
Roy Simmons Jr. has done it all for the Syracuse University men's lacrosse team—he's served as ballboy, mascot, player, freshman coach, assistant coach and, from 1970 to 1998, varsity head coach. Simmons was born into all of these roles. His father, Roy Simmons Sr., served as a coach for the Orangemen for forty-five years prior to his son's taking over the team. The legacy continues to this day. Simmons Jr.'s son, Roy Simmons III, is an assistant to John Desko, who assumed head coaching duties when Simmons Jr. retired in 1998.
Having practically grown up on Syracuse's lacrosse field, it came as no surprise that Simmons elected to attend SU and play for the Orangemen once he graduated from Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire. In three years with the team, he was named an All-American twice, in 1957 and 1958. He served as team captain in 1958 as well. After graduating with a degree in sculpture in 1959 (Simmons' artwork is featured in museums across the United States), Simmons took a job as coach of Syracuse's freshman lacrosse team. He served in this position, and as an assistant coach with his father's varsity team, for twelve years. He took over as head coach of the varsity team in 1971, following his father's retirement.
Known for stressing academics and life skills as strongly as athletics, Simmons became the only men's lacrosse coach to capture five Division I national championships during his tenure. His 290-96 record made him the winningest coach in Syracuse's history. Simmons led the Orangemen to the national semifinals for sixteen years straight—his team lost a semifinal round to Princeton just prior to his announcing his retirement—and he coached 130 All-Americans, four national players of the year and five championship MVPs.
|1935||Born August 6 in Syracuse, New York|
|1955||Enters Syracuse University|
|1956||Joins Syracuse lacrosse team|
|1958||Named All-American and team captain|
|1959||Graduates Syracuse with degree in fine arts|
|1959||Joins Syracuse lacrosse program as coach of freshman team|
|1971||Succeeds father, Roy Simmons Sr., as men's varsity lacrosse coach|
|1983||Captures first of five national titles|
|1988||Captures second national title|
|1989||Captures third, and second consecutive, national title|
|1990||Brings team to Lockerbie, Scotland to memorialize Pan Am Flight 103 victims|
|1990||Team wins third consecutive championship, which must later be forfeited per NCAA ruling|
|1993||Captures fourth national title|
|1995||Wins fifth and final national title|
|1995||NCAA determines Syracuse must relinquish 1990 championship title due to minor infractions|
|1998||Retires with 290-96 record|
Simmons would have had six national championships under his belt, but Syracuse was required to relinquish its 1990 title due to two minor infractions. Because Simmons' wife, who the NCAA deemed a representative of the team, co-signed a car loan for a player and because the school paid a $13.80 hotel room-service bill for two other players, NCAA officials ruled in 1995 that Syracuse must vacate the 1990 title. USA Today reported in 1998 that Simmons "bitterly resented" the NCAA action.
Controversy aside, Simmons's accomplishments are particularly noteworthy because, when he inherited the team, lacrosse was a sparsely funded sport, which made recruiting difficult and, consequently, his early years of coaching less statistically memorable. By 1989, though, he was coaching a team regarded by many as the greatest in the history of the game. Led by twins Paul and Gary Gait, the Orangemen boasted a 13-0 season that year and captured the national championship, the Orangemen's third under Simmons' guidance.
Beyond the Game
It was that winning 1989 team that took on a monumental off-field challenge—taking lacrosse to the suffering town of Lockerbie, Scotland. Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed over Lockerbie that year, claiming the lives of some of its residents and bringing tragedy into its midst. Thirty-five Syracuse University students were on that flight as well, and visitors from the stricken town attended a memorial service at the university. After the memorial service Simmons decided to take his team to Lockerbie.
In addition to placing a lacrosse stick on the Wall of Remembrance, a memorial erected in the town, the Orangemen ran several lacrosse clinics for youth and donated equipment to interested young players. Only women played lacrosse in Scotland, so the boys in the clinics had a great deal to learn about the game. After the visit, lacrosse soared in popularity with youth in the area. Simmons and his players returned to Scotland several times, bringing more equipment, conducting workshops and talking to physical education directors about adding lacrosse to their curricula. When Simmons visited in 1995, the Orangemen took on the newly formed Scottish national lacrosse team. Three years later, that team competed at the World Games in Baltimore, squaring off against Wales' equally new squad.
Simmons was credited with increasing the visibility of lacrosse at home as well. "He allowed a game that was formerly defensive to become offensive," Paul Gait told Syracuse University Magazine. This approach resulted in a faster-paced, more spontaneous game that drew a greater number of fans.
What Simmons is perhaps best known for, though, is the tremendous respect he generated among students, fans and even opposing coaches. "You can't help but like him," Princeton coach Bill Tierney told USA Today after his team beat the Orangemen and Simmons announced his retirement. "You're watching a legend leave the game. He's been wonderful for lacrosse and for college sports."
Simmons had kept the news of his retirement from all but a few players so his team would not feel pressure to win a championship in his honor. He told the team just after their loss to Princeton. They responded with tears before hoisting him on their shoulders so that 20,000 fans could cheer in appreciation. "I don't think anyone will be able to match what he's done," Gait told Syracuse University Magazine following the announcement. "There's only one Roy Simmons Jr. No one will ever forget him."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1973-98||NCAA national semifinals|
|1983, 1988-89, 1993, 1995||NCAA championship winner|
|1992||Named to Lacrosse Hall of Fame|
Address: c/o Syracuse University, Manley Field House, Syracuse, NY 13244-0001.
Canavan, Tom. "Simmons Retires After Six Title in 28 Years." Associated Press (May 23, 1998).
"Syracuse Coach Takes Sixth National Crown." Associated Press (May 30, 1995).
"Syracuse to Give Up 1990 Lacrosse Crown." (Greensboro) News & Record (June 17, 1995): C6.
Thamel, Pete. "Lessons of a Lacrosse Legend." Syracuse University Magazine (fall, 1998).
Timanus, Eddie. "Syracuse Coaching Legend Ends 'Great Ride.'" USA Today (May 26, 1998): 12C.
Wallace, William M. "Syracuse Lacrosse Revival Spans Three Generations." New York Times (May 15, 1986): D29.
"Simmons Retires as Lacrosse Coach." http://www.ncaa.org/news/1998/19980608/record.html#2.
Sketch by Kristin Palm