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Juwan Simpson was still involved in football this past season, but in a very different capacity.
Instead of patrolling the middle of the Calgary Stampeders defence and butting heads with Lions, Eskimos and Roughriders, as he had been doing through the 2015 Canadian Football League season, Simpson was working the sidelines as defensive line coach for Austin High School, his alma mater in Decatur, Ala.
The switch from player to coach was a smooth one for the former Stamps defensive captain.
“One thing about playing middle linebacker,” says Simpson, who played eight seasons for the Red and White, “is that you have to know what everybody’s doing. Coach (DeVone) Claybrooks did a great job while I was still (with the Stamps) of helping me understand defensive line more.
“I was able to take my knowledge of what I already knew and what I was taught up there and justify it. We had a really good season and went to the semifinals but unfortunately fell a little bit short to the team that won the championship. It was a great start for my first year. Now I’m coaching basketball, so it’s a revolving door, really.”
Stamps players, fans and opponents will certainly remember Simpson not only for his excellence on the field but also for the high volume level at which he fired a seemingly non-stop stream of banter.
If you think that part of him is gone now that he’s a coach, you just don’t know Juwan Simpson very well. A less chatty Simpson? You’d have better luck asking water to stop being wet.
“I’m still Juwan Simpson,” he says with a laugh, “and that’s not going to change no matter where I am. The same passion and energy that I brought to the field, I still bring, but it’s just on the sideline. I just try to get my players to feed off of me.
“The Juwan that everybody’s seen, that was me. That wasn’t a show. I didn’t just put a front on for the people. That was me being passionate about the game of football and that passion doesn’t just leave just because you’re on the sideline. In fact, I think it actually increases because you can’t get out there and do it for them.”
Simpson moved on to the next chapter in his life after being released by the Stamps in early February. The 32-year-old says he could have continued his CFL career somewhere else had he been willing to take a significant pay cut, but ultimately he decided to move on.
One of the primary attractions of post-football life was the opportunity to spend more time with his family — wife Alena, daughter Laila and son A.J.
“Our daughter just celebrated her fourth birthday,” he says, “and our son, his second birthday was Saturday. And my anniversary (was last week). Things are great right now and that’s a positive about not playing this year – I was able to be home and spend time with my kids. I think sometimes you can be so far away from your family that you kind of take the little things for granted. That time, you can’t get that back.”
In addition to coaching, Simpson has been teaching carpentry at a middle school in his hometown.
“I want to be a Phys Ed teacher or a health teacher,” he explains, “and that’s what I’m in the process of getting my certification for. But this was a spot that was open that allowed me to still be able to teach and do all the other things I want to do as well.”
Simpson attended Stamps training camp this year as a guest coach and he still keeps in contact with his former teammates.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it,” he admits, “especially toward the playoffs when things were really good. I miss game days, but the days leading up to the games I don’t miss that much.”
Oh, and he also misses being able to brag about the University of Alabama football team — ranked No. 1 again this year — and the opportunity to bark out “Roll Tide” in the locker room.
“I think the thing that I miss the most – I’ll be honest – was during the football season when I could just get on everybody’s nerves and win me a few bucks here and there and be that obnoxious guy,” he chuckles. “There’s something about football players and their pride, and I loved it.”
Still, he’s very happy with where he is in his life right now.
“It comes to a point where you really have no choice but to be (at peace with everything),” he says. “You have to step back and look at the bigger picture.”
Through social media and CFL coverage on ESPN2 and ESPN3, folks in Alabama were certainly aware of Simpson’s exploits north of the border — including a couple of all-star berths and two Grey Cup rings — but it’s not something he talks about much.
“I really try to remain incognito because I’m at a different stage in my life,” he says. “I don’t really want to be known as a player. Now I’m Coach Simpson.”