Garden City, KS-Seven years ago, a man by the name of Chad Froechtenicht flipped Jeff Sims’ world upside down.
Leading 26-24 in the waning seconds of the 2009 National Championship Game, Sims, then the coach at Fort Scott, had his team within an eyelash of hoisting the NJCAA’s biggest prize. It was right there for the taking.
“You could sense it,” Sims said.
Sims wife, Lecia, was sitting in the stands at Pittsburg State University. With less than three minutes to go, fans started congratulating the spouse of the soon-to-be national championship coach.
“It was such an eerie feeling,” Lecia Sims said. “I’ve been around my husband long enough to know that the game wasn’t over.”
Unfortunately for Coach Sims, his wife’s premonition was dead on.
Froechtenicht’s 84-yard punt return for a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining left Sims, his staff and his players in a state of shock. It also gave Blinn their second national championship in four years.
“I learned that when you get that close, you have to finish the job,” Sims said. “At Mesabi Range, we lost pretty much the same way.”
Sims vowed that his third chance would be the one, but when he took over a program that had suffered an 84-21 loss to Coffeyville in the 2014 regular-season finale, that vow seemed more like wishful thinking.
“It’s a process,” Sims said at his opening press conference in December, 2015. “There are a lot of challenges.”
The man with the edge; the one that sleeps maybe three hours per week; the guy who is constantly pushing perfection, was on the verge of curating the greatest, single-season turnaround in NJCAA history.
From a 1-7 start in 2015, to the program’s first Jayhawk Conference title in nearly two decades; Sims had just orchestrated a complete 180 in less than a calendar year.
“I’m not surprised that we are where we are,” wide receiver Jayru Campbell said before the title game. “If you know the work that we put in, you would understand. Coach Sims brought us here.”
With his team trailing second-ranked Arizona Western 22-19 with 1:30 remaining in the 2016 National Championship Game, Sims’ wife made sure to stay away from everyone.
“We had been down that road before,” she said.
Then the history-altering drive that changed everything. Peyton Huslig‘s one-yard touchdown pass to Harley Hazlett capped of one of the most exhilarating rollercoaster rides in championship-game history, and completed Sims’ promise; the same one that was deemed impossible by naysayers just two years earlier.
That wild ride led to Sims reeling in one of the nation’s most prestigious awards. On Friday, the veteran head man was named the National Coach of the Year by the NJCAA. He is the first coach from the Jayhawk Conference to ever win the award.
“This award was possible because of my family and my staff,” Sims said. “They make the sacrifices, and it’s not easy. And my staff is amazing.”
The Broncbusters steamrolled through their 2016 schedule, highlighted with a 43-0 victory over national-powerhouse Butler on Oct. 1. It was the first time the Grizzlies had been shutout since 1991. They followed that up with a 39-13 win at Coffeyville and a 27-17 come-from-behind victory vs. Iowa Western. It all culminated with a 36-7 rout of Dodge City on Oct. 22, capturing the program’s first Jayhawk Conference title since 2001.
“We are already working on next year,” Sims said. “We have a lot of work to do. But I promise the fans this: we plan on competing for this thing again in 2017.”
Following a 27-6 win over Fort Scott in the regular-season finale, the Broncbusters finished off the program’s first-ever perfect season with a 25-22 victory over the second-ranked Matadors.
“The last couple of weeks have been amazing,” said Sims, who joined Georgia Military’s Burt Williams, East Mississippi’s Buddy Stephens and Northwest Mississippi’s Jack Wright as the only other recipients of the national honor. “The support we had from this community, and the love that has poured in since we won, has been incredible.”
Sims now holds a 59-27 career coaching mark, having gone 32-12 at Fort Scott; 13-7 at Mesabi Range and now 14-8 at Garden City.