Simmons reflects on first month at Duke

Photo Courtesy: Duke Athletics

Today makes the one-month mark since former FAMU football coach Willie Simmons, fresh off a Celebration Bowl victory and HBCU national championship, resigned from the school to take a position at Duke University.

Willie “Shotgun” Simmons is a Quincy native and grew up around FAMU. He was the quarterback at Clemson, where he threw for 2,530 yards and 16 touchdowns in 24 games. After graduating, he returned home and began coaching at Lincoln High School in 2005 as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

A year later, he went back to Clemson for a year as a graduate assistant coach.

He then spent five years at Middle Tennessee State University as the running backs coach. After three years, he became the passing game coordinator and running backs coach for a year before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Following MTSU, he went to Alcorn State for three years, where he continued to be an offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Finally, in 2015, he got his first head coach position at Prairie View A&M, where he spent three years before coming to FAMU in 2018.

While coaching at FAMU, Simmons garnered a 45-13 overall record and a 34-5 Southwestern Athletic Conference record. He led FAMU to two HBCU national championships and their first SWAC Championship and Celebration Bowl title last year. He also won AFCA Region 3 Coach of the Year in both 2022 and 2023.

“Leaving FAMU is bitter-sweet. I am a fourth-generation FAMUan, so to leave the university is both exciting as we move forward in our journey and the adventures of our life,” Simmons’ wife, Shaia Simmons, said in an interview with The Famuan. “You hate to leave home to a certain degree, but one thing about it is home is where the heart is, and my heart will always be at FAMU. So, to say that we are truly leaving would not tell the full story.”

Coach Simmons said, “FAMU will always be a part of who I am as a person and a coach.”

Where one chapter closes, another begins. Simmons announced his departure from FAMU on January 1, and the same day, Duke University made an Instagram post welcoming him as the Blue Devils’ new running backs coach.

“I have been working hard as the running backs coach here at Duke, and I have been recruiting for the last three weeks,” Simmons told The Famuan. “I’m trying to get ready to help build this program up with coach (Manny)  Diaz. I’m excited to be here. We came here to win championships.”

Four days ago, former FAMU assistant head coach under Simmons, James Colzie III, was promoted to head coach. Two players who have de-committed to FAMU following Simmons’ departure have already recommitted, knowing that Colzie is the new coach. Only time will tell what’s in store for the Rattlers this season.