Jeffrey Sims, Missouri Southern State University’s head football coach, has been nothing short of exceptional throughout his coaching career. Over the course of his head coach tenure in Junior College, he had a record of 77-32 with three national championship appearances. On top of his relentless dominance as a coach, he also holds his team to high academic standards. At his former school, Garden City Community College, as seen on Netflix’s Last Chance U, Coach Sims’ team consistently had a team GPA of 3.00. In his first season with Missouri Southern State University, his team achieved its highest GPA in nearly a decade.
Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, Coach Jeffrey Sims took the time to answer some questions as to how athletes across the country should be handling the adjustments made to the recruiting process. Through his vast coaching experience, he also gave valuable insight into the recruiting and evaluation processes.
LRT Sports: Recently, the NCAA Division I and II council released a statement regarding the recruiting process as a result of the COVID-19 Outbreak. The decision was to declare a dead period until at least April 15th. For those athletes depending on face-to-face interactions with the coaching staff to separate themselves in the recruiting process, as a head coach, what would advise them to do?
Athletics is about competition. This is a good time to separate yourself from the crowd. In 2020, you do not always have to be face-to-face; there are many other ways to communicate, use these methods to work with college recruiters.
LRT Sports: Many recruits nearing their decisions rely on their Official Visits before finding their home. With official visits off the table until the end of the period, what are some resources athletes can use to learn more about campus?
For football, official visits are not typical this time of year, so at this point, we won’t be affected. But if I were an athlete that wasn’t allowed to visit, I wouldn’t make a decision yet – everyone is in the same boat, when this passes, there will be time to visit your top schools. It may keep some athletes from visiting 15 colleges unofficially, but they will be able to see their top 2 or 3, and if a school won’t wait for you, then that wasn’t the school for you. One thing I think people really forget in the recruiting process is signing day is the first day you can sign–many act like it’s the last.
LRT Sports: The ACT exam scheduled for April 4th was recently rescheduled to June 13th, and the SAT canceled their tests for May 2nd as well as the makeup for March 14th. With test scores being so vital in the recruiting process, what should be the next steps for recruits depending on those exams?
Turn a negative into a positive and STUDY! If they were moved back, use this time to be ready and get a great score.
LRT Sports: Coaches across the country, such as LSU’s Ed Orgeron, have begun to endorse spring sports, such as track and field. For the spring juniors/seniors who would’ve needed this season for film or to develop as a player, what do you suggest athletes do in the meantime to remedy this?
The government has asked us to practice social distancing. They have not said at this time you can not go outside and run. Get a workout from your High School Coach, reach out to the local university strength and conditioning coach, and tell him you are looking to train on your own. Does he have a workout he/she would suggest? This will eventually pass, and we all are going through it. Deal with it the best you can, and when we resume, be ready.
LRT Sports: It is no question; every competitor believes that they can play at the Division I level; however, every journey isn’t the same. You have coached at multiple levels of football (JUCO, DII & DI.) What are some of the things that make up a Division I athlete, and what traits help to separate them from their competition?
The thing that separates an NCAA DI athlete from the rest is most of the time length and speed. There are many times in High School, player A will outperform Player B in a game or season, but Player B will have multiple scholarship offers, and the families and fans all wonder why. The reason is recruiting is not about who you are today; it’s about whom we can develop you to be in 3-5 years. An athlete that is longer and faster with the correct player development in the years to come can be better. Also, we [teams] play on fields and courts that have a certain dimension – if I put five players 6’5 on the court vs. five players 6’ the team with the 6’5 players do not have to cover the same amount of area or jump as high as the team with 6’ footers. There are always stories of the player who overachieves, but the percentages in recruiting say go with the longer and faster athletes.
LRT Sports: For those who aren’t an immediate Division I prospect, but would like to continue their journey as a walk-on, how would they navigate that process to gain a competitive edge?
If you are going to walk-on at a Division I school, first, have a plan that is achievable. I have heard of students who say I will walk on for a year, and then if I get a scholarship, I will stay. That is not realistic. The coaches will not even start evaluating you until the spring. The first semester they are focusing on their current games, not freshman walk-ons. Spring semester will be the first time you have a chance to get evaluated, and that will be in [the] 15 practices when you get your chance. Also, there are NCAA rules that affect when they can offer a scholarship. Make sure you are playing a position that they can scholarship you as a walk-on, if you are a QB, the chances are slim, because there are only so many reps at practice. If you are an offensive lineman 6’2 or over, odds are they are going to scholarship you. If you are bound and determined to play Division I football and are going to walk on, make sure these things are in place:
LRT Sports: What advice would you give players who are thinking about undergoing the redshirt process? Can you briefly explain the redshirting process, and how players can successfully maneuver through this period to optimize their own experience while maintaining a helpful and positive attitude for the team?
The best way to go through redshirting is simple, always prepare as if you are playing and always be ready to play. Leave the decision to redshirt up to the coaching staff and do what is best for your team.
LRT Sports: Currently, you’re the Head Coach at Missouri Southern State University, a Division II school. How is tackling recruiting different in Division II compared to the other Divisions you have coached in? What challenges arise? If at all, how may it cause you to re-evaluate the types of players you recruit?
This is the best question you have asked. All recruits need to understand one thing, ALL LEVELS of football are different, and you need to find the level that is best for you. I have coached at NAIA, JC, DII, Mid-Major DI, Big Ten – they are all completely different. Too many people say they want to be DI but do not have any idea what that means, and too many students end up at the wrong level and have a poor experience. At DII, I have found that it is very important to find students that fit your university, it must be a relationship where both the student-athlete and the football program are on the same page as to what a successful athletic experience is, [so] at the end of their career they received the college-experience they desired by being a part of your Division II program, and they are proud to have been a member.
LRT Sports: According to the NCAA, 62% of Division II student-athletes receive athletic aid compared to the 59% in Division I. Many athletes may be unaware of statistics such as this, and thus only have one goal; Division I. With Division II institutions being home to many first-generation college students, how do you encourage players to look beyond what they see in the media and consider Division II schools?
It’s about finding the students that fit your program ideals. All programs are not the same, as people are not the same. It’s essential to find the students who hear the message your program is offering. An easy example is, we are a program that is building. If a student wants to be a part of building a tradition, have an opportunity to play sooner rather than later, we are a school they would consider. If they want to go somewhere that is already established, learn from players that know the system, and wait their turn to be a part of the program, then they may go to a DII that has already won a championship.
LRT Sports: You formerly starred in Netflix’s “Last Chance U” as a head coach for Garden City Community College. The JUCO route is known around the country for being a physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult process, but for some, it is their only path to higher education. What do you believe are the keys to being successful should you take the JUCO path? What are some of the downfalls of athletes that you have seen that others could learn from?
The keys to being successful in JC are first to realize it’s a fresh start, new opportunity, take advantage of this opportunity. You are there for one of three reasons, at least.
The key mistake students make is they go to junior college, and they continue the same mistakes that led them to junior college, and they find other students to co-sign with them and tell them they don’t have a problem; it’s everyone else.
LRT Sports: Interactions between the coaching staff and recruits is an integral part of developing rapport and finding out whether the two are a good fit. What are some of the things coaches are looking for from players and their families during these interactions?
Coaches are looking for students who have a sincere interest in getting better. Many recruits today look at the offer and the scholarship as an accomplishment. The goal isn’t an offer or a scholarship. The goal is a championship and a graduation that prepares the student for the rest of their lives.
LRT Sports: In your opinion, what are the three most important things for a recruit who has a desire to play at the next level?
“I have been fortunate to coach 55 players that have made it to the NFL and made 231 million dollars to date. They all have one common trait – THEY LOVE FOOTBALL, how do I know they love football? By the way they practice. Every one of them everyday is full speed with a great attitude. If you do not practice hard every day, if you do not come to football practice with a passion for playing the game, it is going to be almost impossible to make it to the NFL.”
When doing research in the recruiting process for my daughter I came across the LRT Sports website. I was immediately intrigued as this was another dimension of the recruiting process that many people don't even consider. My daughter and I could "short list" schools based on the education she was looking for, as well as the opportunity to play her sport. LRT Sports not only gave us pertinent information into the recruiting process with different interviews of coaches and players, it also gave us insight into current and/or former players' opinions on the coach of that school in her sport. We could use this information to re-prioritize my daughters list of schools based on this feedback. I have many friends that are, or will be, going through this process shortly and I highly recommend using LRT Sports as part of anyone's recruiting process.
The college process presents a myriad of challenges. Factor in athletics and it becomes even more daunting. Now, add the fact that you have zero experience with sports. What is a the mother of a college bound student-athlete to do? LRT Sports has truly lived up to its promise. It has kept "the college recruiting process honest and easy by providing first hand information about coaches, schools and the recruiting process." Their interviews with current students, coaches, and professional athletes have provided realistic guidance. I am much more informed because of LRT Sports! The coach ratings are the most helpful. LRT Sports interviews allow us to hear from students as to how the adults are impacting not only their athletic experience but also how they are helping to shape their adult self.
The C.A.L.C. was thrilled to have Keirsten Sires come and speak to us on multiple topics relevant to high school athletics today, including recruiting. Keirsten reached all of our students and left them with great strategies that will not only help on the fields, courts, and mats, but also in the game of recruiting. She was a true professional and delivered a wonderful message.
Now that the recruiting process and the related stress is over, I wanted to thank you for your guidance. You did so much more than we had expected. Once you started the process by matching the best academic schools first, not the best sport programs, I knew you were the one. The way you laid out a timeline of contacting coaches, visits, and camps completely took any guesswork out of the plan for us. All of the student athletes that you put us in touch with gave us a look from the inside, and made us more comfortable knowing what was coming. Finally, using your website as a resource for knowing what to expect from different coaches based on former recruit reviews gave my son confidence before our meetings. There is no way we could have figured this out on our own, you really put us in a great position when decision time came.
I think hearing from other athletes is very beneficial. To be able to learn from people’s mistakes, and to be able to have access to those voices is really helpful; especially voices that have been there and done that. It’s very important for people to have access to information that could benefit them, and in this case there are many voices that can help the next wave of athletes.
If you have something that’s going to spell [the recruiting process] out for you… it’s so valuable. I think what everyone at LRT Sports is doing to spread the word and help advocate and educate athletes on the recruitment process is incredible.
Without question would have used LRT Sports. It would have probably been one of the most valuable tools that I could have had. If you want to know what these coaches are really like then I think this is the best tool out there. I’m really glad you are allowing recruits to have a resource like this moving forward.