Track coach sprints off

Provided by Stefan Liotchev | Queens Chronicle

The sudden resignation of Scott Simmons two meets into the Spring track season has shocked and angered some members of his team and raised questions whether some top runners would leave Queens.

A Jan. 19 story on the Queens website quoted Simmons has saying, “After over 20 years of collegiate coaching I am motivated to continue my development as a coach to a higher level. I thank Queens for this opportunity, and I know the Royals will continue their success under new leadership.”

The story said Simmons would be “focusing his attention” on coaching the American Distance Project in Colorado Springs, Colo., establishing the group as a permanent post-collegiate site for Olympics-caliber distance runners. Some Queens team members complained that Simmons already had been spending time training runners in Colorado dating back to last summer, leaving the Queens team without a head coach for up to a week at a time.

Queens said a national search would begin immediately to find a new head coach, hopefully by late Spring. Assistant coaches Daniel Kanyaruhuru, a Queens alum, and Ciara Delgado will serve as co-coaches for the rest of the 2012 season.

In an email dated Jan. 18 to the team, made available to The Chronicle by team members, Simmons wrote, “You may be aware that as a coach, I struggled with many challenges over the past year, which, to some degree, contributed to my decision to leave.”

At another point in the email, Simmons wrote, “This wasn’t an easy decision for me and I understand that this is not an ideal situation for you. But I hope and I believe that Queens will find a qualified replacement for me who can facilitate the progression of those who remain at Queens next year.”

Simmons’ email added that “the timing of my resignation and (Jan. 17) announcement to you were decided upon by Queens’ administration.” The email said Simmons “completely supported” the administration’s decision to announce his resignation after Christmas break instead of the end of a NCAA regional meet in December, for two reasons: to “keep intact the great memories” of cross country team’s success at the regionals and to provide “an infrastructure of support moving forward, including the most important support you have – each other.”

After first agreeing to answer questions, Simmons did not respond to emailed questions by The Chronicle.

When asked about the timing of Simmons departure, Athletic Director Jeannie King said in email, “The timing of the announcement was carefully considered and was selected based on the University’s ability to coordinate the transition and provide the best continuity for the program.” She added, “The program achieved incredible success and resulted in Queens’ first national championships (under Simmons). He (Simmons) clearly elevated the profile of the program.” King also reiterated that Simmons’ departure was his choice to pursue a new opportunity.

In an interview, Queens Communications Director Vanessa Willis said Simmons left Queens on “good terms,” adding, “He was offered an amazing position in Colorado that he couldn’t turn down.” Willis said it was not unusual to have turnover in coaches, though she acknowledged mid-season departures were rare.  She declined to answer questions about details of Simmons’ departure because it was a personnel matter.

Team members interviewed by The Chronicle praised Simmons’ coaching, but some members said they were upset about the timing and circumstances of his resignation. “I feel like he wasted a lot of people’s time because he didn’t want to coach collegiate (athletics),” said senior Holly Annis.

Sophomore Mathilde Timboni said she was disappointed. “He knew he was leaving two months before. I’m happy for coach because what he’s doing is good for him, but it wasn’t very nice.”

Senior Stefan Liotchev, a runner on the track team and also a staff writer on The Chronicle, said Simmons would leave the team in the care of the assistant coaches for as long as seven days to train his distance team in Colorado – an account confirmed by some other team members.

On the American Distance Project website, Simmons is listed as one of the coaches for the group’s 13-week American Marathon Trials Training Camp, which started in October 2011 and concluded Jan. 14 with the U.S. Olympic Trials. The marathon training program would be directed by Renato Canova, a world-renown trainer of distance runners, “in partnership with Scott Simmons,” according to the website.

When asked about Simmons absences, interim coach Delgado said, “Coach Simmons always communicated with me about his intentions and absences. He relied on me as one of his assistants to take care of the athletes when he was away.”

“Coach Simmons went on to continue and progress his career with the Olympic hopefuls in the marathon,” Delgado added. “His work with the American Distance Project and in Colorado are important and exciting for him as a coach. As it is an Olympic year, his priorities needed to change and focus more toward professional running.” Delgado called Simmons an “inspirational” coach who “took a team with absolutely no mention on the national circuit of running and redefined it. The team has a national caliber reputation, thanks to him and his training theory.”

Simmons leaves behind Queens track and cross country teams full of talent. Freshman Chris Enriquez qualified for the 2012 USA Junior National Championships. The team also has multiple 2011 All Conference award winners from last year, including sophomore Taylor Blackwell and senior Felix Duchampt.

During Simmons’ time at Queens, his teams took home its first six individual national championships, seven conference championships, seven NCAA regional championships, 25 conference individual championships and 26 All-American honors, according to the Queens’ story about his departure.  Simmons received nine NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Coach of the Year awards.

   When asked about whether they would stay on the team, some underclassmen either chose to remain noncommittal or not to comment. However, Timboni said she would most likely stay on because of Queens academic programs.

Coach Delgado said, “We want the athletes to do what they believe is best for their education and running careers. If they are not comfortable remaining at Queens, we do not intend to hold them back.  But that is a private decision made by the athlete and it is not my place to name names.”

As far as the rest of the season, team members remained optimistic. Timboni said she was confident the team would perform “as if the coach were here because the assistant coaches are the same. So (we’re working) to get better.”

Senior cross country runner Rosa Young, who recalled being “speechless, in tears and sad” when Simmons’ resignation was announced, added, “I hope the season gets better even with or without coach. OK, we’ll get better and we’ll get stronger with our assistant coaches, and we’ll coach ourselves.”

In his email, Simmons downplayed his role and urged his former team members to remain positive. “Our team was never about the coach – it was about you. And it always will be.… I encourage you to stay committed to your athletics. I encourage you to believe in yourself and try your best. If you do, I have no doubt you will continue to excel, both in running and in life.”

The email added, “I look forward to following your future successes and I look forward to possibly working with some of you once you exit college.”

The track team will continue without their head coach on Feb. 11 in St. Louis for the National Cross Country Championships and on Feb. 17 in Boone, N.C., for the Appalachian State Open.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.