In covering sports through the years you occasionally run into a real character. Someone who can make you laugh out loud....sometimes without saying a word. The legendary Texas basketball coach Abe Lemons was one. When he was asked once if he ran for exercise, Lemons replied, "No. I want to be sick when I die."
Another real character was Stanley "Ramrod" Simpson. Coach Simpson was the head basketball coach at Middle Tennessee State University from 1979-1984. His record was 71-66 but he was best known for the Blue Raiders' stunning 50-44 win over Kentucky in the 1982 NCAA Tournament. His team went 22-8 that year and that win over the Wildcats is still considered to be the biggest victory in school history.
At the pre-game press conference before the game with Kentucky, he quipped," I'm like the ugly girl at the dance. I don't care who I dance with as long as I get to dance."
He was also asked by the media what was his biggest concern for his team as they prepared to face Kentucky. "Ramrod" replied, "I just hope our team isn't looking past Kentucky to get to Louisville" (MTSU's opponent in round two and the Raiders lost 81-56)
Moments after a lop-sided 101-58 loss at Alabama during the 1983 season, he told reporters in his post-game press conference, " There was one bad call that beat us. The one our athletic director made when he scheduled the game."
Before becoming MTSU's head coach, he spent five seasons as an assistant on Coach Jimmy Earle's staff. That's when I got to know him. He would keep us in stitches laughing at his stories as I would stop by his office a couple of times a week. After I moved to Chattanooga my boss at WDXB radio was putting together a luncheon for all the area's high school coaches as we were preparing to broadcast a massive amount of prep sporting events. He asked me one day if I knew anybody that would be a good speaker, and I told him I knew just the guy. We brought "Ramrod" to Chattanooga in the summer of 1975 and, as I expected, he was a tremendous hit. Several coaches told me after that luncheon that he was the best they've ever heard.
He told about his high school coaching career down in south Georgia and the time that when his team was facing a really good shooting team, he instructed one of his managers to hit the button that raised the goal up and down when his opponent had the ball. That little move threw off the team's shooters so badly they had trouble connecting all night. He spoke about his famous, "double-team bite" defense when he was coaching girls basketball as well as his strategy for stopping a big time player by inserting one of his managers into the game to guard the guy. The manager was only about 5'-6" and was stocky and was prone to bark like a guard dog from time to time. When this big-time player got the ball, the manager would crouch down in front of him and bark viciously. The guy didn't hit double-figures and "Ramrod's" team won the game.
He also spoke of the time when was both the head basketball coach and athletic director at a school. After a tough loss once, he said that he fired himself as head coach, but then hired himself back later based upon the interview.
I questioned one of his friends once about if some of those stories were really true and he told me, "Hell, they're all true!"
My favorite "Ramrod" story was when he was an assistant coach at MTSU and the Blue Raiders had a really great player named George Sorrell. Occasionally the team would have a game that would require a plane trip but George Sorrell was afraid to fly. So "Ramrod" drew the task of driving Sorrell to the game while everyone else would take the plane. When they would stop to rest or stop to get food, "Ramrod" would put handcuffs on George Sorrell as if he was transporting a prisoner. You can imagine the looks the two of them got everywhere they went.
Coach Simpson passed away in 1999 after a lengthy bout with cancer. I think of him often and I always remember all the laughs we had as well as everyone else who came in contact with him. We need more "Ramrods" in this world.
Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org