PULLMAN – Perhaps none of Mike Leach’s assistants resembles his unconventional rise to coaching stardom more than Dennis Simmons, who has made a career of coaching receivers at the college level despite playing linebacker at BYU.
Of course, nowhere is it written that a coach must only coach the position he played. Or that he must have played at all. To hear Simmons tell it, his job as Washington State’s outside receivers coach is a natural fit.
“Being a former linebacker, you identify with guys who are athletic and like to be around the ball,” Simmons said in his office on Monday. “When you think about a good receiver, he’s an athletic dude who always wants to be around the ball.”
So Simmons – a big, athletic dude himself – found his place in the coaching ranks working with receivers.
But first, Leach found him.
Simmons spent a year as an assistant at BYU in 1997, the season after he finished playing. Two seasons as a running backs coach and chief of staff at Cornell followed.
When Leach was hired as Texas Tech’s head coach following the 1999 season, he sought a recommendation from Robert Anae, a graduate assistant at BYU during Simmons’ playing days who wound up as Leach’s first offensive line coach.
Leach wanted someone young and energetic to work in Tech’s football office. Anae recommended Simmons, and Leach eventually hired him to work in a quality-control capacity. He was promoted to chief of staff in 2005, and became receivers coach in 2008.
That season, Simmons coached all-everything Michael Crabtree to his second consecutive Biletnikoff Award as Texas Tech finished with an 11-2 record.
Simmons, who has been the outside receivers coach for East Carolina the past two years, will inherit some talent here, too, most notably junior Marquess Wilson, who caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. But Simmons isn’t naming any starters yet, saying everyone will be on equal ground when WSU begins spring practices on Thursday.
“There are no preconceived notions,” Simmons said. “I didn’t evaluate any of these kids on film during the recruiting process, nor did any of the other coaches. So this spring ball will give them a true opportunity to go out and show what they can do. We’re the new kids that just moved in the neighborhood, but in the same token, they get a chance to reinvent themselves and be the new kid on the block and show what they have.”
He’s not necessarily looking for two starting outside receivers and two starting inside receivers, either.
“We’re looking for our best four receivers,” Simmons said, “and then we’ll kind of slot them into those spots from there on out.
“If you’re within the top eight, you’re probably going to get some playing time. If you’re within the top five to six, you’re definitely going to get playing time.”
Simmons expects the offense to be mostly installed by the third week of spring practice, and says one of the advantages of Leach’s air-raid offense is that it can be easily polished during summer 7-on-7 drills.
“That’s not to say there still won’t be some things we won’t have to come back in fall camp and clean up from bad habits over the summer, but the gist of it will be in,” Simmons said.
Simmons has already earned a reputation as one of the staff’s most affable recruiters. He’s assigned to the inner-Los Angeles area, perhaps the most crucial recruiting spot in the Pac-12.
“I think there’s some kids in L.A. that have a swagger about themselves, that they have something to prove,” Simmons said. “And I think that fits with what we’re trying to do here because I feel like in our conference, we’re that blue-collar team with a chip on our shoulder that plays the game like we have something we want to prove.”