Skyhawk Football | Jason Simpson - Head Coach
Sporting the best winning percentage out of any coach in University of Tennessee at Martin football history is Jason Simpson, who has led the Skyhawks since 2006.
In eight years, Simpson has led UT Martin to a 52-39 record (.571 winning percentage) and a 40-23 mark against Ohio Valley Conference opponents (.635 winning percentage). That comes after the program had won 20 OVC games in its first 14 seasons in the league. He also has presided over 57 All-OVC players after the program tallied 33 such players in its first 14 seasons in the OVC.
Three of the program's seven 8-win seasons have come under Simpson, including all three at the Football Championship Subdivision level. He was responsible for the program's first-ever OVC championship team in 2006, as that team ended the season with a national No. 13 ranking after finishing 9-3.
Simpson placed fourth in the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award ballot in 2006 and was also a finalist for the award in 2012. He won the OVC's Roy Kidd Coach of the Year award and the American Football Coaches Association Region 3 Coach of the Year accolade in 2006, his debut season at UT Martin.
A total of 14 Skyhawks have been named an All-American under Simpson. Those include Alex Atkins (2006), Don Chapman (2006), Jessie Burton (2006), Josh Yarbrough (2007), Dontrell Miller (2008), Ray Williams (2008), Joe Gibbs (2009), Josh Bey (2009), CJ Estelle (2011), Montori Hughes (2012), Quentin Sims (2012), Jeremy Butler (2013), Ben Johnson (2013) and Tony Bell (2013).
In April 2012, Hughes became the 12th UT Martin player and first since 1996 to be selected in the NFL Draft. Hughes was picked by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round (139th overall). Since 2011, Gibbs (St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers), Sims (Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots), Derek Carr (New York Giants), Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs), Butler (Baltimore Ravens) and DJ Roberts (Baltimore Ravens) have all received opportunities with NFL teams.
Simpson also coached Chapman for two seasons, who became just the 14th Division-I player to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He was named the program's first-ever OVC Offensive Player of the Year in 2006.
The Skyhawks have also won or shared the Sgt. Alvin C. York Trophy, which was established in 2007 and is given annually to the best of the four OVC teams located in Tennessee. The Skyhawks won the trophy in 2010 and shared it in 2012.
Last season, UT Martin once again established itself as one of the best programs in the OVC, finishing with a 7-5 overall record and 5-3 mark against league foes. That marked the fifth winning season under Simpson and third in the last four years.
The Skyhawks spent three weeks in the Sports Network Football Championship Subdivision polls in 2013, with their only losses coming to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Boise State and Memphis and FCS playoff participants Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State and Jacksonville State. UT Martin defeated ranked FCS opponents Chattanooga (31-21) and Central Arkansas (24-23) in the first three weeks of the season and was ranked No. 22 in the nation by the Sports Network on Sept. 30.
Simpson oversaw eight All-OVC players in 2013, including all-time program greats Johnson, Butler and DJ McNeil. Johnson led the OVC in tackles for the second straight season while Butler concluded his two-year career ranking in UT Martin's top-five lists in 100-yard receiving games (eight, first), touchdown receptions (20, second), receptions (141, third) and receiving yards (1,953, fifth). McNeil rounded out his career ranking third in UT Martin history in rushing touchdowns (21) and fifth in rushing yards (2,160).
Simpson also coached Bell in 2013, who earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors twice. Bell led the OVC with 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season.
In 2012, the Skyhawks finished the season with the best overall winning percentage in the OVC (.727, 8-3 record). That winning percentage was the second-highest in program history in the program's FCS era. UT Martin also tied a program record with six OVC victories against only two losses, including a 51-37 win over regular season champion Eastern Illinois for the Panthers' only OVC loss. The Skyhawks also recorded one of the biggest wins in program history, a 20-17 win over in-state FBS opponent Memphis (one of only 10 victories by FCS teams over FBS teams in 2012).
SImpson coached the end of the career of Carr, who will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in OVC history. A three-year starter (2010-12), Carr wrapped up his Skyhawk career as the school’s all-time record holder with 69 touchdown passes (third in OVC history), 8,484 yards of total offense (fourth in OVC), 665 completions (fourth in OVC), 8,428 passing yards (fourth in OVC) and 1,110 pass attempts (fifth in OVC). Carr was the only FCS or FBS player to complete seven touchdown passes on two separate occasions (at Murray State on Oct. 13 and against Jacksonville State on Nov. 3). In the game at Murray State, he set the NCAA single-game mark with a 243.78 passing efficiency ranking after completing 42-of-46 passes for 560 yards (the most yards thrown by an OVC player all season) against zero interceptions.
In 2012, the Skyhawks ranked in the top-25 nationally in turnover margin (1.18, seventh), net punting (38.38, eighth), punt returns (16.47, eighth), passing offense (299.55, 10th), passing efficiency (150.26, 12th), sacks allowed (1.09, 15th), scoring offense (33.55, 19th) and total offense (427.45, 24th).
UT Martin went 5-6 with a 4-4 OVC mark in 2011. The Skyhawks led the OVC in tackles for loss (7.73 per game) and least sacks allowed (0.45 per game), while ranking in the top-25 nationally in sacks allowed (0.45, first), punt returns (14.55, seventh), scoring offense (34.64, 13th), tackles for loss (7.73, 13th), total offense (427.18, 19th) and rushing offense (191.64, 25th).
The Skyhawks also boasted Estelle in 2011, who led the nation in punt return yardage (17.69 yards per return).
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.
The Skyhawks led the OVC in pass efficiency defense (104.89), pass defense (154 yards per game) and total defense (299.27 ypg) while ranking in the top-25 nationally in pass defense (154 ypg, ninth), total defense (299.27 ypg, 12th) and total offense (393.27 ypg, 24th) in 2010.
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.
In 2009, UT Martin led the OVC in passing offense (243 yards per game) thanks to Cade Thompson, Simpson's starting quarterback from 2008-09. Gibbs also wrapped up his spectacular career by being named to three All-American teams and claiming UT Martin's Bob Carroll Male Athlete of the Year Award.
The Skyhawks ranked in the top-25 nationally in total offense (409.36 yards per game, 14th), least sacks allowed (1.27 per game, 18th) and passing offense (243 yards per game, 22nd).
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 2008 squad led the OVC in passing offense (235.08), scoring offense (37.33), sacks (2.50), tackles for loss (8.00) and sacks allowed (1.17). UT Martin also ranked in the top-25 nationally in scoring offense (37.33, fourth), tackles for loss (8.00, seventh), total offense (405.58, 16th), sacks (2.50, 19th), sacks allowed (1.17, 20th) and punt returns (12.25, 23rd).
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 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.
UT Martin led the OVC in total offense (430.55), scoring offense (33.36) and passing efficiency (135.61) while ranking in the top-25 nationally in net punting (36.33, 10th), total offense (430.55, 13th) and scoring offense (33.36, 19th) in 2007.
In 2006, 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. UT Martin finished the season ranked No. 13 in the final FCS poll, the highest an OVC team had been ranked to end a season since 2001.
The 2006 Skyhawks led the OVC in rushing offense (218.25), rushing defense (112.92), pass efficiency defense (91.51), total defense (255.50), scoring defense (15.67), punt returns (11.58) and pass defense (142.58). They also ranked in the top-25 nationally in pass efficiency defense (91.51, second), total defense (255.50, sixth), pass defense (142.58, seventh), rushing offense (218.25, 12th), scoring defense (15.67, 13th), rushing defense (112.92, 15th), sacks allowed (1.17, 18th), punt returns (11.58, 19th) and kickoff returns (21.84, 20th).
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.
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. 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.
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 Mississippi 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.