Not long before Ernie Sims arrived at his nana’s birthday party Jan. 5, he felt a tug from his past — a job offer from Florida State, where he starred as a linebacker.
Not long before he exited his nana’s home in Tampa’s Carver City neighborhood a few hours later, he felt a pull toward his future — a job offer from USF, where he had spent the previous season as a defensive analyst.
That left Sims facing a difficult decision: Go back home to Tallahassee and wear the garnet and gold again, or stay in Tampa for a growing role with the green and gold?
“Just a wild, wild turn of events, how things worked out,” Sims said.
To understand just how wild it was, you have to understand how much FSU means to Sims. The 36-year-old was born and raised in Tallahassee and won two ACC championships with the Seminoles (2003 and 2005).
His father, older brother and younger brother all played football at FSU. His mother ran track there. During Sims’ eight-year NFL career with the Lions, Eagles, Colts, Cowboys and Cardinals, the former No. 9 overall pick kept a home not far from campus, in Thomasville, Ga.
Getting an offer from FSU coach Mike Norvell to become the Seminoles’ director of player engagement was attractive on a professional level and deeply meaningful on a personal one.
“That’s a special place to me,” Sims said, “and it always will be for me and my family.”
Sims’ FSU link is also what helped connect him to USF. Bulls coach Jeff Scott remembers following Sims’ college and pro career at ACC rival Clemson.
“I also heard about him as a person, just his reputation as a high-character, high-integrity type of young man,” Scott said.
Scott’s respect led him to hire Sims for an off-the-field position a year ago, where he excelled. A few hours after Sims told his boss about FSU’s job offer, Scott called back with a proposition of his own: Become the Bulls’ linebackers coach.
Sims thought about it. FSU offered an emotional tie USF never could and an entry point into the next phase of his career.
“From my mind-set, it really didn’t matter what position,” Sims said. “As long as I get my foot in the door, I was going to grind my way to the top.”
The Bulls would provide a different way to get there. After three years in support roles (two at Florida Atlantic and one at USF), Sims finally had earned a chance for onfield responsibilities as a position coach. It’s the type of opportunity he had been working toward for years, ever since he started helping at Under Armour camps with Ray Lewis and Deion Sanders.
Beyond that, Sims felt an intangible draw to USF. His time in the NFL taught him the value of proper leadership and principles. He bought into Scott’s long-term vision and staff.
“I firmly believe that he has assembled a great group of men that have high character and integrity,” Sims said. “That’s what I want to surround myself around.”
As special as FSU was, Sims had his answer. His past would remain in Tallahassee. His future was in Tampa.
As Sims finishes up his first spring in his new role, his Bulls future already looks bright. Scott sees the kind of intensity from Sims that all great defensive coaches possess. Sims’ players respect his NFL background and honesty —the way he considers his pro career good but wishes it had been great.
“The things that he’s (engraining) into us now is what he wished he would have done to be great,” sophomore Mac Harris said.
Sims will have another chance to inch his players toward that goal Saturday when he coaches the green team during the Bulls’ spring game at Raymond James Stadium. It’s a personal honor for Sims — and another sign that the decision he made on his nana’s birthday was the right one.
USF spring game, noon Saturday, at Raymond James Stadium
Streaming: The Identity Tampa Bay Radio: 1250-AM
Tickets/parking: Free, but access is limited
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