MOBILE, Ala. - Darrin Simmons, the only special teams coordinator Marvin Lewis had, appears headed to outlast him as the Bengals look to hire a successor.
But as Simmons got the first look at college prospects that were in Kindergarten when Lewis took power at Paul Brown Stadium, he can still taste that strange brew of the new and the unknown that was so combustible and good.
“Sometimes change is OK. Sometimes change creates a spark. It created a spark 16 years ago,” Simmons recalled during Tuesday’s first Senior Bowl practice. “I think that's what they're probably trying to recreate now. I think we all get that. We all want things to be sparked again. After not really having not spoken with them, I'm sure that's what they’re trying to do is create another spark for the fans and create excitement for the city.”
According to reports, Simmons did talk to Bengals ownership when he interviewed for the head coaching job in the days after it and Lewis agreed to part ways. The Bengals are apparently looking outside, but in another sign of how highly the club thinks of him Simmons is one of only a handful of Lewis position coaches and/or coordinators left as reported by NFL media and others.
From piecing the dispatches together, that’s two on defense and two on offense. And Simmons and his memory of the early aughts.
The club has made no announcements about who’ll be on that new staff, but Simmons knows what it felt like on that last new staff.
“I think it did create a big spark,” Simmons said of the move to Lewis. “There was a definite change in the city from ‘03 to ‘04 and obviously culminated in ‘05 with a first shot at the playoffs. We have to try to recreate that spark, recreate that energy to get Paul Brown Stadium back to what it was in the mid-2000s.”
In those 16 seasons, Simmons, 45, has gone from rookie head position coach who inherited the worst special teams in the league and promptly lost his kicker ten days before his first game, to one of the most respected in the game who has coached the Bengals’ all-time punt and kick return leaders, the all-time punter and the most accurate field goal kicker.
But he was around before he was here. He broke into the NFL as a volunteer in Browns head coach Bill Belichick’s 1994 training camp. He knows what 16 years in one place mean. Especially when he saw fellow ’03 staff mate Jonathan Hayes let go from the tight ends spot.
It means two kids born in Cincinnati and a grease board busy with intangibles.
“We've been very blessed to be in the same place as long as we have. Cincinnati is home for my family. It's home,” Simmons said. “My daughter was a year old when she got here. We've been very, very fortunate to be able to stay in the same place.
“Obviously a lot of guys on our staff have been together for a long time, Jonathan Hayes and those guys for a long time. It's tough to not see them standing beside us anymore, not seeing them around the building. That hurts. I think we all understand that we've been very fortunate to be in the same place we've been for a long time. Our families obviously appreciate that. That's the part that's been tough.”
Simmons has been around long enough to see a trend he doesn’t like. There just aren’t as many assistant coaches scouting events like the Senior Bowl.
“I do say there are fewer and fewer coaches coming down here,” Simmons said. “So many teams’ scouting staffs have become so enormous that they rely on scouts to bring that information back to the coaches to evaluate. A lot of those teams are putting coaching staffs together. Us included. It’s easy to see the coaches play catch up with video.”
But Simmons won’t be one of those guys no matter where he is.
“It’s good for me to see the punter punt live. You can see how the ball explodes off his foot,” he said. “It’s probably good for the quarterback coach to see the quarterback throw live. See how the ball comes out of their hand. There are a lot of things you can’t see (on tape), how they react after good plays and bad plays. Like the kicker here. How does he react after a couple of misses? You don’t get to see that on video.”
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