Simmons huddles on the sidelines with players.
Simmons leaves a program well positioned in the ranks of NCAA lacrosse, and it is the job of his successor, John Desko '79, to keep it there. Desko has served Simmons since his final season as an All-American defenseman for the Orange in 1979. Simmons commonly refers to Desko as the only assistant coach in the country with six championship rings and 16 consecutive Final Fours. "He's been with me every step of the way," Simmons says. "I'm leaving our boys in good hands."|
But for Desko, replacing a legend whom he calls his best friend is not a simple task. Simmons left much of the tactical work in the last few years to Desko, who many players have lauded for improving their games with one-on-one sessions. Even though he has plenty of experience, Desko recognizes the enormity of the task ahead. "They're pretty big shoes," Desko says matter-of-factly. "But just having been with Coach for so long I picked up a lot of things along the way. I hope he never wanders too far away, though."
After attending Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, Simmons returned to Syracuse, where he was a two-time All-American and combined with football legend Jim Brown '57 for a potent offensive attack. After graduating with a degree in sculpture in 1959, Simmons took a job as coach of the freshman lacrosse team (freshmen were not eligible to play at the time under NCAA rules).|
That began 40 years of what is regarded as the most prolific run by a lacrosse coach in NCAA history. In that time, hundreds of players played hundreds of games against dozens of different teams. And it all culminated on a sparkling early summer day at Rutgers Stadium, with Princeton spoiling a potential storybook ending with a comeback win in the national semifinals. After the horn sounded and his distraught players picked themselves off the field and huddled around their old coach, Simmons bluntly told them, "I'm passing the torch."
It would be virtually impossible for Simmons to distance himself wholly from the University after all these years. He has already volunteered to help the athletic department in any way he can during his retirement, assuring his lifelong dedication to the University will continue. He grew up two blocks from SU, with the Quad as his childhood playground, and academic buildings for backstops to bounce balls off of. With his father as the head lacrosse coach, boxing coach, and an assistant football coach, he was the envy of the neighborhood kids, who used to gather at his house because of the preponderance of athletic equipment.|
Simmons did everything fathomable in his youth to help his father's teams. He served as ball boy and mascot, and even dressed boxers' cuts between rounds of boxing matches. The exposure to the University gave Simmons a wealth of background in athletics, a learning experience that helped him launch his coaching career. "I grew up in the shadows of an institution," Simmons says. "I've been blessed. I've led a great life."
He made the decision nearly a year before, but kept it secret, so his boys didn't feel they had to "win one for the Gipper." Tears of disbelief began flowing from the players, fading their eye black and leaving streaks down their sun-burnt faces. Simmons dispersed hugs and whispered words of reassurance in their ears. Then, in a final tribute, the team swarmed Simmons and two players hoisted him on their shoulders. And as Simmons took off his typically stiff-brimmed hat and waved goodbye to the crowd of 20,000, he received roaring applause in return.|
It was not a cheer for Syracuse's performance that day or even his stellar coaching career, but a final tribute to his own victory in the Big Game. "I don't think anyone will be able to match what he's done," Paul Gait says. "There's only one Roy Simmons Jr. No one will ever forget him."
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