Skyhawk Football | Jason Simpson - Head Coach
UT Martin head football coach Jason Simpson and his UT Martin Skyhawks didn’t waste any time garnering attention in 2011. The Skyhawks opened the season at No. 9 Jacksonville State and suffered a one-point loss in the final minute of the game. Two weeks later Simpson and the Skyhawks stunned arch rival Murray State, 48-26, in front of the home crowd at Hardy Graham Stadium.
The explosive offense led by West Tennessee product Derek Carr didn’t stop cruising. The Skyhawks lambasted Austin Peay 61-23 and then closed out the home season with a 38-30 win over Southeast Missouri State. Going into the final two games of the season, the Skyhawks were in a position to win their second OVC championship in five years.
However, it was the litle things that proved costly on the road against Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky. When the dust settled and the regular season came to an end the Skyhawks found themselves in the middle of the OVC standings with a 4-4 worksheet. The four losses were by a combined 16 points.
It was the four losses, that ignited Simpson’s battle cry – Go Make A Difference, or Go MAD – for the 2012 campaign.
In six years, Simpson has led the Skyhawks to a .617 OVC winning percentage and a .544 overall winning percentage. The OVC winning percentage is among the top four in the league, backing up why Simpson was the 2006 Roy Kidd Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year.
Along with winning, Simpson has delivered one of the most explosive offensives and a stifling defenses in the country.
The Mississippi native and sixth-year head coach has recently produced the nation’s No. 1 punt returner in All-American CJ Estelle and All-American defensive back Dontrell Miller.
As a team UT Martin won the Sgt. Alvin York Trophy in 2010 when it went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the OVC. The Sgt. York Trophy was not the only piece of the puzzle for the Skyhawks in 2010. Simpson led his charges to a 10-7 Homecoming victory and the first ever win over perennial power Eastern Kentucky in school history.
With the 2006 OVC championship to his credit and a field goal shy of a second championship in 2008, Simpson’s teams have been ranked among the top 25 in the nation annually. The Skyhawks received votes in the FCS polls seven out of 14 weeks during the 2009 season.
The Skyhawks marched to a 5-6 overall record and sported a 4-4 OVC worksheet. The team opened its campaign with a 56-0 lambasting over Iowa Wesleyan and won three of its last four games of the season in convincing fashion. Among those victories was a 38-24 triumph over rival Murray State and a 48-38 shootout with Austin Peay. The Skyhawks were ranked 27th in the nation in rushing offense, 22nd in the nation in passing offense, 37th in scoring offense, 31st in rushing defense, 19th in punt return yardage/defense, 30th for tackles for a loss per game, 25th for third down conversion percentage and 17th for time of possession.
Cade Thompson, Simpson's starting quarterback from 2008-09, was 20th in the nation in passing yards per game and total passing yards (2,546). Thompson set new school records for passing yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes in 2009. Offensive tackle Joe Gibbs, junior linebacker Josh Bey, tailback Brandyn Young and freshman tailback Jason McNair reeled in All-OVC honors in 2009 for Simpson and the Skyhawks. Gibbs was also named to three All-America teams and claimed UT Martin's Bob Carroll Male Athlete of the Year Award. Gibbs recently earned a tryout with the NFL's New York Jets.
Simpson led the 2008 Skyhawks to an 8-4 overall campaign and a 6-2 OVC record. The team received votes in both the FCS Coaches Poll and the Sports Network Poll, and was ranked 25th in the nation in the final Sports Media Entertainment (SME) Network poll. The team was ranked fourth in the nation in scoring offense (37.33) and sixth in fumbles recovered (16). The Skyhawks were also ranked among the nation's top 40 teams in rushing offense (34), passing offense (35), total offense (16), punt returns (23), kickoff returns (38), passing efficiency (27), sacks (19), tackles for loss (7), third down conversion percentage (8) and fourth down conversion percentage (8).
The head coach had five first team All-OVC selections including Thompson, his quarterback, wide receiver Mike Hicks, offensive lineman Kevin Bannon, defensive lineman Ray Williams and defensive back Dontrell Miller.
Miller earned All-American honors from the Associated Press, the AFCA and the Sports Network. He was also included in CSN's Fabulous 50 team. Williams picked up honorable mention All-American honors from The Sports Network.
In 2007, the Skyhawks closed out the season by winning four of their last five games. The Skyhawk offense exploded in the second half of the season with a 76-34 victory over Murray State and a 55-20 thumping over Southeast Missouri State. While the second half of the season was loaded with excitement, the first half was a challenge to say the least. The Skyhawks lost their first three OVC games by a combined nine points. The team finished the season with a 4-7 overall record and a 4-4 mark in the OVC. Linebacker Josh Yarbrough led the team in tackles and earned All-OVC honors and honorable mention All-American honors from the Sports Network. Running back Don Chapman closed out his career as UT Martin's all-time rushing leader with 5,017 yards. Chapman became only the 14th Division I player to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. Return specialist Jessie "Juice" Burton was the Sports Network's third best kick returner. Burton was invited to the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders training camp.
In 2006, Simpson's first year, the Skyhawks posted a 9-3 overall record and a 6-1 mark in the OVC standings. The overall worksheet was the best for the Skyhawks since 1988 when they advance to postseason play as a Division II team. The six OVC victories were the most for the Skyhawks since joining the league in 1992. Of the nine victories, five were road wins and it marked the first time the Skyhawks won an OVC road game since 1996.
Along with wins, Simpson led the Skyhawks to national rankings for the first time since 1989 and top 10 statistical rankings in pass efficiency defense (2), total defense(6), pass defense (7). The team was 12th in rushing offense while Chapman was ranked No. 9 in rushing offense (128.36 yards per game). Burton was ranked seventh in kickoff returns (26.2 yards per return).
Simpson finished fourth in the annual voting for the Eddie Robinson Award for the nation's best coach. He was named the American Football Coaches Association Region 3 Coach of the Year and he earned the OVC's Roy Kidd Coach of the Year trophy.
Before accepting his first head coaching job at UT Martin, Simpson was the offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He was instrumental in the resurgence of the UTC football program. In 2005, Chattanooga posted a 6-5 campaign, the school's first winning season since 1997.
At Chattanooga, Simpson coached quarterback Cedric Stevens who threw for more than 3,100 yards with a 66 percent completion percentage. With 20 touchdown passes, Stevens was named national Division I-AA Player of the Week. Stevens turned in a stellar effort with 540 yards of passing and five touchdowns as he helped Chattanooga pile up 697 yards of total offense in a 59-56 win over Appalachian State.
In 2004, Simpson's offense finished 14th in Division I-AA for passing and 32nd in scoring with 29.2 points per game. Simpson also coached Alonzo Nix at Chattanooga. Nix broke the Southern Conference record for receptions in a season with 90 catches. He earned all-conference honors in 2003 and 2004. In 2003 he was an All-American and in 2004 he was a preseason Walter Payton Award finalist.
Before Chattanooga, Simpson coached at Texas State University, a member of the Southland Football League. He coached quarterbacks, receivers and served as the team's recruiting coordinator. At Texas State, Simpson coached Tyson Ollvo who is the school's third all-time receptions leader. In 2000, Texas State posted a 7-4 record, the school's first winning season in 10 years.
Simpson served as an assistant coach from 1997-1999 at Jacksonville State University. He coached quarterbacks and was the team's passing game coordinator. He also coached receivers and served as an assistant special teams coordinator. He was a member of the Jacksonville State staff responsible for the third best turnaround in Division I football for the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
At Jacksonville State, Simpson coached Reggie Stancil, the Southland Football Conference Freshman of the Year; two-time All-Southland wide receiver Joey Hamilton who signed with the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Hamilton is Jacksonville State's all-time leading receiver with more than 2,903 yards and he holds five career records. Simpson also coached all-conference wide receiver Ronald Bonner who signed with the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger Cats and Montressa Kirby, the 1998 Southland Offensive Player of the Year. Kirby is Jacksonville State's all-time offensive leader with more than 7,688 yards.
Simpson is a native of Ellisville, Miss. He signed as a quarterback with Mississippi State and played for two seasons for the Bulldogs. He also played baseball for Ron Polk at State before transferring to Southern Miss in 1992. At Southern Miss, Simpson was a two-time all-conference selection in baseball and was team captain his senior season.
After earning a bachelor's degree in 1994 from Southern Miss, he spent the next year as a graduate assistant football coach at Delta State, where he coached defensive backs. In the spring of 1995, Simpson served as an assistant football and head baseball coach at Collins High School in Mississippi.
Simpson and his wife, the former Julie Wilkerson, have two sons and a daughter: Ty, Graham and Emma. The family lives in Martin and attends First Baptist Church.