Skyhawk Football | Jason Simpson - Head Coach
The longest tenured head football coach in the Ohio Valley Conference is Jason Simpson, who has transformed the University of Tennessee at Martin program into one of the winningest teams in the OVC since his first season in 2006.
In 11 years, Simpson has led UT Martin to a 72-54 record (.571 winning percentage) and a 57-32 mark against OVC opponents (.640 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 74 All-OVC players after the program tallied 33 such players in its first 14 seasons in the OVC.
Simpson's 72 career victories rank eighth in OVC history while his 57 conference wins also come in at eighth place.
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 is a three-time finalist for the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach of the Year Award in 2006, 2012 and 2016 while finishing fourth overall in 2006. 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, 2014).
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), DJ Roberts (Baltimore Ravens), Abou Toure (Indianapolis Colts), Charles Sweeton (Kansas City Chiefs), Bell (Tennessee Titans) and Corey Jordan (Jacksonville Jaguars) 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 – five times. The Skyhawks won the trophy in 2010 and shared it in 2012 before reclaiming the trophy in 2014 and defending it in 2015. UT Martin owns a 21-9 all-time record in the Sgt. York Trophy series, which is the best mark out of the four OVC schools.
UT Martin produced yet another top finish in the league in 2016 after posting a 7-5 overall record and 6-2 mark in OVC play to finish second in the league standings – despite playing three FBS opponents. It marked the fourth time in program history that the Skyhawks finished in top two in the league standings, sitting only behind No. 3 ranked Jacksonville State – en route to being named a finalist for the Eddie Robison Coach of the Year Award. As a squad, the Skyhawks ranked first or second in 18 different statistical categories in league play including scoring offense (32.3 ppg, 2nd), scoring defense (24.0 ppg, 2nd), total defense (322.4 ypg, 2nd), rushing defense (128.3 ypg, 2nd) and pass defense (194.1 ypg, 2nd).
Seven players were recognized as All-OVC performers led by first team selections for Kahlid Hagens and Robert Burleigh. Ben Axline, Kenneth Crenshaw, Keith Jones, Damani Taylor and Tae Martin all earned second team honors while Londell Lee earned an All-Newcomer nod. Hagens led a talented defense with 93 tackles while pacing the squad with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He also tallied five pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a pair of forced fumbles. Burleigh anchored an offensive line which ranked as one of the nation’s best, ranking 24th nationally and first in the OVC in sacks allowed per game (1.25). He started in all 12 games at right tackle while grading out at 84 percent or better. Along with the team’s individual accolades, the squad retained the Sgt. York Trophy after holding the tie-breaker in a three-way series tie.
On top of defending the Sgt. York Trophy once again, the Skyhawks continued their climb atop the OVC rankings once again in 2015, finishing third with a conference mark of 6-2 while finishing the season at 7-4 overall despite facing a pair of FBS opponents in Ole Miss and Arkansas. Faced with one of the toughest schedules in the country, Simpson led his team to be one of the top offensive threats around while receiving votes in both polls for nine consecutive weeks to close out the regular season. The Skyhawks ranked first in the OVC and 16th in the country in third down conversion percentage while ranking in the top-15 nationally in passing offense (11th, 293.5 ypg), red zone offense (13th, 86.8%), scoring offense (13th, 35.5 ppg) and total offense (14th, 456.6 ypg).
Six players off the 2015 squad were recognized as All-OVC performers by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors, including Jarod Neal, Rod Wright, Jackson Roberts, Damani Taylor, Marquis Clemons and Jackson Redditt. Neal headlined a list with one of the best individual seasons in UT Martin history after completing 246 passes for 3,117 yards and 30 touchdowns. Neal notched five 300-yard passing games while notching six games with at least three passing touchdowns – including a personal-best six touchdown performance against Bethel. Wright, a senior wide receiver, finished just short of becoming the programs fourth 1,000-yard receiver while leading the OVC and ranking third nationally with 14 touchdown receptions.
The 2014 season saw the Skyhawks clicked midway through the season and ended the campaign as one of the hottest teams in the nation. UT Martin won five of its last six outings - with the only setback coming against FBS No. 1 ranked Mississippi State - to conclude the season with a 6-6 overall mark and 5-3 record in the OVC. Included in the aforementioned hot streak was a five-game winning streak in OVC play, which occurred only for the second time in program history (also happened in 2006 under Simpson).
Simpson oversaw three program greats in Bell, Toure and Sweeton in 2014. Bell captured his second straight All-American honor while finishing 16th in the final voting for The Sports Network Buck Buchanan Award, annually presented to the best defensive player in the FCS ranks. He rounded out his career with a school-record 22.5 career sacks while ranking in the top-10 nationally in fumble recoveries (3, sixth) and tackles for loss (21, 10th). Meanwhile, Toure became just the sixth player in program history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season as his 1,138 rushing yards ranked as the third-best single-season performance in school history. Toure's 234 rushing yards at Murray State on Nov. 1 were the most in the OVC in 2014 and the third-best rushing effort in program history. Sweeton was tabbed as a Preseason All-American selection and started every game in 2014, extending his consecutive starts streak to 46 (every game of his collegiate career). He conceded only one sack in his final two seasons at left tackle, earning All-OVC accolades in both 2013 and 2014.
In 2013, 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 a span of four years. Simpson became the first UT Martin football coach to post back-to-back winning seasons since George MacIntyre in 1976-77.
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 in 2013.
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.
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 also boasting 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) in 2010.
The Skyhawks received votes in the FCS polls seven out of 14 weeks during the 2009 season. UT Martin 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.
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).
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).
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).
Prior to 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.
An Ellisville, Miss. native, Simpson 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.
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