In his 28 years as a head coach at Syracuse University, Roy Simmons Jr. saw hundreds of players pass through his lacrosse program. They comprised undefeated squads littered with All-Americans, scrappy teams that overachieved, and forgettable clubs in the mid-seventies that struggled to reach mediocrity. But to the countless athletes who donned an orange jersey in Simmons's reign, he consistently spoke about a solitary Big Game. "Is it the one coming up this Saturday?" players would ask. "Is it the playoffs?" they wondered.|
"No, no," Simmons would respond.
This game, he explained, is dramatically more complicated. It has no timeouts, substitutions, or referees. It lasts 24 hours every day, as opposed to 60 minutes once a week, and the opponents are much tougher than Johns Hopkins or Cornell. It was the game of life for which Simmons prepared his players, using lacrosse as bait to hook them on an academic lure and cast them into society with tools for success.
"We hope lacrosse leads them here and then the academics catch fire and they see a bigger picture," says Simmons, who served as an adjunct fine arts professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts in the eighties. "We hope the lacrosse memories are good ones, but with a degree they don't have to dwell in the past."
Simmons announced his retirement on May 23 following the Orangemen's 11-10 loss to Princeton in the NCAA tournament semifinals. Now that his days as SU lacrosse coach have ended, he has been prodded to dwell a bit upon his career. The gentle coach with the soft raspy voice and ivory hair will be remembered as much for his sharp wit and worldly knowledge as for revolutionizing the sport of lacrosse.
"He's probably the smartest person I ever met in my life," says Casey Powell '98, a four-time All-American under Simmons. "He's my hero."|
But when Simmons recalls his 40-year coaching tenure at Syracuse, which began in 1959 as an assistant to his father, Roy Simmons Sr., there is only a brief mention of on-field accomplishment.
Sure, Simmons does not hide his NCAA-record 16 consecutive Final Fours and six national titles. He does not hesitate when he tabulates his coaching record of 290-96, or mentions that he and his father served a combined total of 67 straight years as SU's head lacrosse coach. He also joyfully recalls the tears watering the eyes of his father, his hero, after his first national championship in 1983. But it's when "his boys" win in the Big Game, not a big game, that Simmons truly boasts.
He fondly recalls a player in the late seventies, Jim Neville, who went to Spain through the Division of International Programs Abroad in the fall of his junior year and was expected to return the next spring and start for the Orange. But a call came to Simmons's office in Decemberthe player was not leaving Spain, deciding instead to continue studying overseas. "And I never saw him again," says Simmons, with an almost proud chuckle. "He stayed over there and got his degree in Spanish literature."
Such Big Game success stories are countless in Simmons's era. None is more telling, though, than what his team accomplished in December 1989. This lacrosse club, which marched on to a 13-0 season and national championship, is commonly regarded as the "greatest in the history of the game." But an off-field action by this team was equally memorable. Simmons vividly recalls sitting in the Carrier Dome during a January 1989 memorial service following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The tragedy of less than a month before killed 35 Syracuse University students on their way home from a semester abroad. At the service were visitors from Lockerbie, Scotland, a peaceful hamlet where the parts of the 747 crashed, claiming more lives and wreaking havoc.
Roy Simmons Jr., right,
stands with John Desko '79.
Desko, a former All-American,
succeeds Simmons as head
coach after 19 years as an