Tom Sims’ entrance into the coaching world came, quite by accident, during the fall of 1990.
While on injured reserve as a rookie defensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs, Sims regularly underwent treatment at a downtown medical center, and one day, on his way home, he drove past a community center near Southeast (Mo.) High School, where a group of eighth grade boys was sweating through an afternoon practice.
“I saw them one day, and then the next day on my way back, I just pulled in, talked to the coach and starting messing with them from there on,” said Sims, who spent the next couple years helping to coach the kids. “As a player, I thought coaches were crazy, to be honest. The hours that they put in and the commitment level it took to prepare for a football game. But they also had an opportunity to impact kids in a positive manner, and that’s not something that I took lightly.”
Nearly 20 years later, the rewards of coaching still hold a particularly strong grip on the Detroit native.
After spending the past four years in the same position at Illinois, Sims was recently hired to take over a Kansas University defensive line that — with the exception of 2008 all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Jake Laptad and Caleb Blakesley — will be one of the team’s few question marks heading into the 2009 season.
Last season, the Jayhawks ranked sixth in the Big 12 in sacks with 26, although they lose experienced ends Russell Brorsen and John Larson — as well as linebacker James Holt, who finished with a team-high 10 sacks, while being used as a pass rusher off the edge throughout the latter part of the season.
The list of possible replacements, however, appears lengthy. Tackles Jamal Greene and Richard Johnson each started at least seven games for the Jayhawks in ’08. Tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should also compete for playing time, and highly-touted end transfer Quintin Woods, who initially signed with Michigan out of high school before signing with Bakersfield (Ca.) Community College, also provides an intriguing piece for coaches to consider during spring workouts.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino seemed to harp on the team’s defensive line a bit more than other areas during a press conference at the start of spring football, citing the need for improvement in all areas — from gap discipline to pass-rush techniques.
“I think we need to make some strides (there),” Mangino said. “... And Tom has already proven that he will make the necessary adjustments and teach the fundamentals that we would like to have in our defense — that we’re used to having up-front.”
Surely, Mangino is hoping that Sims’ tenure in Lawrence spans a bit longer than that of his last defensive line coach — Kerry Locklin lasted just over two weeks before departing for a job with the New York Jets — and as spring practice has progressed, that seems a likely scenario.
“I’m starting to get a feel for them, and they’re getting a feel for me,” Sims said. “With very few exceptions, I’ve been extremely impressed with the work ethic and the discipline. And with me getting here, every guy has a clean slate.”