Simmons introduced as coach Thursday

Eastern+President+David+Glassman+%28left%29+and+Athletic+Director+Tom+Michael+%28right%29+pose+with+new+men%27s+basketball+head+coach+Marty+Simmons+after+his+introductory+press+conference+in+Lantz+Arena+Thursday+afternoon.+

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern President David Glassman (left) and Athletic Director Tom Michael (right) pose with new men’s basketball head coach Marty Simmons after his introductory press conference in Lantz Arena Thursday afternoon.

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

Marty Simmons, the new head coach of the Eastern men’s basketball team, is not from Charleston, but he said during his introductory press conference Thursday that it felt like he was coming home.

The press conference was held in Lantz Arena, a building that Simmons was familiar with long before he was announced as the coach Wednesday.

He was born and raised in Lawrenceville, Illinois, about an hour and a half from Charleston. During his time as a star high school basketball player, he played in Lantz for super sectional tournaments and holiday tournaments. Simmons said he is now looking forward to returning to the gym to lead the Panthers as the program’s 15th head coach.

“I didn’t grow up here, but in a lot of ways this does feel like home to me,” he said,” and it feels that way because of the experiences that I’ve had when I played in Lantz gym and when I stayed in Charleston, Illinois. Those fans would come out and watch us play and support us, not only in the Christmas tournament, but in the super sectionals as well.”

Simmons also recalled playing in front of a packed house in Lantz Arena, an atmosphere he said he wants to bring back to campus.

“My memories of this place is that we had people at the very top. We filled this thing up,” he said. “And when this place is rocking like that, it’s one of the best college basketball, at that time it was high school, best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

Simmons’ most recent head coaching experience was at Evansville from 2007-18 and has been an assistant coach at Clemson since then.

He said that he believes that his experiences at Clemson and the in the ACC helped him grow as a coach.

With the Tigers, Simmons coached in the same conference as some of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, including North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, who announced his retirement Thursday morning, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.

“To be able to coach against (Williams) and Krzyzewski and Boeheim, and Tobacco Road, and when you get through all of that you’ve actually got to prepare for what they do offensively and what they do defensively, and oh by the way they get some of the best talent in America, was really a learning experience,” Simmons said. “I think it’s allowed me to grow as a basketball coach.”

Simmons also boasted an impressive playing career in high school at Lawrenceville and college at both Indiana and Evansville, playing under some highly respected coaches like Ron Felling at Lawrenceville, Bob Knight at Indiana and Jim Crews at Evansville.

While playing for Knight at Indiana, Simmons was also directly involved in one of the most infamous events in college basketball history.

In a game on Feb. 23, 1985 against Purdue, Simmons was called for foul on a loose ball. Another foul was called against the Hoosiers on the next play.

Knight then received a technical foul arguing the call on Simmons, and before free throws could be taken by Purdue, Knight picked up and threw a plastic chair onto the court, a moment that has become very well known.

“It was a bad call. It was a bad call,” he said. “I dove on a loose ball and somebody dove on top of me. I felt like they should’ve called a foul on the other team. But I think everyone was in shock that he actually threw the chair across the floor.”

There is no chair throwing in Simmons’ plans for coaching the Panthers, but he does hope to run things that were done by Knight and other coaches he has played for, like motion offense and strong fundamental play.

“Coach Knight obviously ran motion and he’s a fundamental guy, a lot of those traits. I’m pretty lucky, because all the guys I played for, they really focused on that,” he said. “Coach Felling, who’s won four state titles in the state and won a national championship at Indiana as an assistant, he did a lot of those same things.”

Eastern Athletic Director Tom Michael said that one of the things that led to him hiring Simmons was the feedback he received from other coaches.

“The coaches that I talked to, every one of them, talked about what a great basketball mind he is,” he said. “And the other comment that comes with that when you talk to coaches is that the ones that had to coach against him, hated it.”

Michael said that Simmons’ contract is for four years with a base salary of $165,000, with incentives that can add to the length and salary.

“We’re excited about it, and I think he is too, and look forward to him competing with what we’ve got,” Michael said.

Simmons will be inheriting a roster that will be missing a large number of significant pieces from last season. Eight seniors from last season’s team will be moving on. Included in that number was the top six scorers on the team, and all eight were in the top nine on the team in scoring.

Simmons said that he is working to build relationships with the players he has on the roster while also starting recruiting efforts to fill out the team.

He also gave lots of credit to his family for supporting him throughout his career and getting him to this point.

“I’m blessed. I’ve had tremendous support since I was born,” he said. “I lost my father in October, and I know he’s looking down and he’s got a huge smile on his face because he’s been on this gym many many times too.”

 

Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]