By T. Scott Boatright
Grambling State offensive coordinator/assistant head coach John Simon is no stranger to the piney hills of Lincoln Parish.
A native of Baton Rouge, Simon came to Louisiana Tech as a running back in 1998. He gained more than 4,000 all-purpose yards for the Bulldogs while catching a pass in a then-NCAA high 36 consecutive games.
In his senior season of 2001, Simon helped the Bulldogs to the program’s first Western Athletic Conference championship and first bowl appearance in 11 seasons.
Simon, who moved to wide receiver his senior campaign, received the 2001 Humanitarian Award at the Humanitarian Bowl and was a recipient of Louisiana Tech President’s Award.
He then moved on to the NFL, playing the Tennessee Titans and the 2003-04 season with the Washington Redskins.
When his playing days ended, Simon became a coach at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Dallas. He then moved on to the college coaching ranks at Southern Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona State and Memphis before joining the Grambling State staff when Hue Jackson took over the GSU football program last December,
“Many people don’t realize that Coach Jackson was my position coach when I was with the Redskins,” Simon said. “So we have some history there and I’ve been looking for the opportunity to work with Coach Jackson.
“Sometimes we get comfortable with Coach Jackson because he’s here, but it’s an honor to work with someone with his resume and what he’s done. I’ve been around some of the top coaches in the game, and like them Coach Jackson is one of those who can coach any position at a high level.”
Simon said Jackson’s coaching style hasn’t changed much between his time with the Redskins and the G-Men.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Simon said about Jackson. “He made a living out of building relationships with players when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals that many coaches had given up on.
“That speaks to his ability to reach people. He’s humble enough and has a story that resonates with all kids and all families. So he’s able to reach our players and help them even out of football with issues and struggles they have. He coaches with his heart. All of his former players love him and call him all the time. You hear them tell him they love him and hear him say he loves them.”
Simon said the opportunity to return to Lincoln Parish was another big factor in his joining Jackson at Grambling.
“It’s humbling to have what I would say is the opportunity to come back home to this Ruston/Lincoln Parish area where I spent five years and was very active in the community,” Simon said.
“I still have relationships here. I saw my old athletic director (from Louisiana Tech) at church a couple of weeks ago. The pastor that married me and my wife is still here. It’s an awesome feeling to be somewhere where you have history, where you know people and the community and the area, so I’m excited about the opportunity to be here.”
While Simon is watching over the Tigers, he also maintains a watchful eye over his two sons — John and James — currently playing for Shreveport’s Calvary Baptist football team.
“As a parent, you put so much time into this profession with everybody else’s kids it is rare when you can find time to devote to your kids,” Simon said. “I’ve been blessed and have always tried to be close to where I’ve worked to be able to be hands-on with my kids, training my kids, coaching my kids and helping them grow as men off the field as well as one the field.
“So I’m excited about both of them and the fact they’re playing at a high level right now. Calvary’s playing at a real high level and that’s why I placed my kids there.”
To try and help Grambling’s offense reach a high level of play, Simon turns to the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen coaching.
“Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement,” Simon said. “It’s not only about Saturdays. It’s about the next day whatever day it is and getting better. Because if you take care of business on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, Saturday will take care of itself.
“So I try to make the picture smaller for my guys and tell them to just get better every day. The goal is to be your best. You can’t win every game, every situation. But you can learn from every situation that you go through. So that’s how I try to take the anxiety off my kids about their performance and how they perform and play.”
Simon will get his first opportunity to see how that philosophy has impacted the G-Men when Grambling State opens the season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in a game that will be televised on ESPN+.