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Spotlight Feature: Bryan Brothers (Bill 77-80, Boyd 81-84 & Vaughn 81-85) and Jerry Simmons (71-82)

Bryan believed in Simmons

By Bruce Brown

Written for the La. Sports Hall of Fame

When John Bryan first saw Jerry Simmons, he saw a smallish tennis player who didn’t quite fit in at his Amarillo, Texas, high school.

But he saw something more important – he saw the drive that inspired Simmons to succeed despite challenges along the way, the grit that eventually led to 492 victories as tennis coach at USL and then LSU in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.

It was the kind of fire that has now landed Simmons a spot in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Simmons will be inducted into the 2018 class on June 30th in ceremonies in Natchitoches, joining former NFL wide receiver Brandon Stokley and football coach Lewis Cook as members with Ragin’ Cajun connections.

He was in another high school, and it seemed to me he was sort of an outcast who wasn’t getting much help and didn’t have a lot of money,” Bryan said. “I felt like he was kind of left out – shuffled to the side, not getting much opportunity.

I was 23, 24, and coaching at another high school. I played doubles with him at some tournaments, and told him he’d be welcome to practice with my players. You could tell he wanted to play well.”

That diamond in the rough just needed polishing.

Jerry worked hard and played hard,” Bryan said. “He fought for it. I liked guys who would play tough, play to win, tough guys … mean on the court, guys who didn’t give in to anybody.”

A few years later, after playing for West Texas State and rubbing elbows with WTSU football stars Mercury Morris and Duane Thomas, Simmons was offered the job coaching a dispirited tennis program at then-USL.

Once again, he sought Bryan’s counsel.

He talked to me a long time before taking the job,” Bryan said. “He always wanted to get things done, to be the best. He was ambitious. I liked that. He had plenty of energy. He was a go-getter.

He was willing to go to work early in the morning and late at night to get it done. I told him he was young, and that he ought to take a shot at it.”

Under Simmons from 1972-82, the Cajuns went 214-92-2, were unbeaten in Southland Conference dual matches for 6 years, won 5 of 6 SLC tournament titles including the dominant 1978 event, and put tennis on the map in Lafayette.

In his last 5 seasons before moving on to LSU, the Cajuns won 23, 24, 20, 24 and 24 matches.

He made it into a good program,” Bryan said. “He was interested in the kids. And he was a good promoter with plenty of innovative ideas.”

Simmons built quickly with junior college talent like Skipper Hunt, Carter Lomax and Umberto Izquierdo, and suffered just one losing season at USL (10-11-2 in 1972).

Ties that bind

The tie between the two hard-nosed coaches was solidified when Bryan sent three of his four sons to USL to play for Simmons.

Oldest son Bill arrived in 1977 and quickly established himself as the kind of gritty, no-quarter performer who emblemized the Cajun squad. He is in the UL Athletic Hall of Fame.

Brothers Vaughn and Boyd soon followed, crucial elements in the drive to succeed. Boyd Bryan teamed with Tarek El Sakka to reach the 1982 NCAA Tournament in doubles.

Jerry was the best recruiter, ever,” Bill Bryan said. “I was ready to sign with Lamar, and he sent an airline ticket to me, in class at the high school, to come to USL. And I loved it here.”

Steve Hernandez was another Texan who chose the Cajuns that year, while JC standout Paul Griffith emerged at No. 1 singles. Gus Orellana, James Boustany and Gary Bowles soon followed, and the program was off and running.

We had a great group of guys at USL,” Bryan said. “Most of us were ‘next up’ players – the kind who are told ‘if we don’t sign this guy, we’ll sign you.’ So, we played with a boulder on our shoulder.”

Sounds like the kind of players Simmons could identify with.

We played good competition,” Bryan said. “We beat SEC schools. And Jerry saw to it that we were known in the community. We never played in front of empty bleachers.”

We played teams from the SEC, the Southwest Conference, Pac 10 … good competition,” Griffith said. “And we always had everything we needed. He gave us the tools, and it was up to us to use them to succeed.

We had a great following here,” he added. “We’d go out to local high schools and play in front of them. Jerry did so many things (scorers in chairs beside each court, camps, tennis association, the Rolex tournament) that are done all over now but he thought of first.”

ESPN’s first live telecast of a collegiate event was a USL match.

All my sons got better playing for Jerry,” John Bryan said. “If they were willing to work, they were going to win. I knew that they would be well taken care of.”

Years later, Bill’s son Danny played for Simmons’ successor at LSU, Jeff Brown, completing a cycle begun years ago in Texas.

FURTHER HONORS – Jerry Simmons was the youngest coach ever inducted into the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998 and is in the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame. Spurred partially by his most recent honor in Louisiana, Simmons was named to the West Texas State Hall of Honor in February, 2018.

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Jerry in the green jacket, surrounded by his former players, with Bill on his left at the 2013 Tennis Reunion.

Click here for the photo gallery of that event. There are two digital galleries of digital photos and one video of the recognition social.

Click here for Jerry’s Athletic Network Profile.

To view photos of Jerry’s USL tennis teams, click on www.athleticnetwork.net , photo gallery, tennis, then the 1972-82 years.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.