Colorado Golf Coach Mark Simpson Passes Away
He ultimately succumbed to complications from a blood clot in his lungs, but died a peaceful death according to family members who were at his side. Simpson was 55.
A memorial service is scheduled for this Saturday, December 10, at 6 p.m. at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.
Simpson, both a proud Colorado native and CU graduate, completed his 29th year as the head coach of the Buffaloes this past fall, even though treatments prevented him from traveling with the team. He still oversaw many of the team?s day-to-day affairs and attended practices when his health allowed him to do so. He was the dean of both CU sport coaches and Big 12 Conference golf coaches, and was only the eighth coach in CU?s golf history.
He apparently had defeated the disease the first time around, being declared cancer-free in April, though it must remain in remission for five years to be considered cured. The cancer returned with a vengeance in September, and initial surgery affected his vocal chords, reducing his capability of speech to just above a whisper the last two months of his life. He also underwent surgery for blood clots on November 15. Through it all, Simpson remained positive, and said on many occasions that his fate ?was in the Lord?s hands.?
He is survived by his wife, Valorie of Boulder; two stepdaughters, Lindsey (Boulder) and Michelle Isham (Phoenix); a grandson, Jaden; his mother, Martha Carman Simpson (Durango); an uncle, Frank Carman (Durango); and three cousins, James Brennan (Glendale, Ariz.), Bruce Carman (Durango) and Frank Carman (Tucson, Ariz.). He was preceded in death by his father, George Thomas Simpson (in 1996) and a sister, Judith Pierson (in 1997).
?College golf lost a man of great integrity, whose heroic battle against this terrible disease was emblematic of his passion for life,? said GCAA President Tom Drennan. ?Much of what the GCAA looks like today was due to his ability to get varying factions working towards a common goal ? the betterment of college golf. All of golf is sad to hear of his death.?
?We have lost a great Colorado Buffalo,? athletic director Mike Bohn said from New York, where is attending assorted conference television meetings. ?Our thoughts are with his family during this time, and all of us should never forget the contributions he made to the University and the positive impact he had on hundreds of students as well as others associated with CU.? Bohn made the effort while in Manhattan to light a candle for Simpson at St. Patrick?s Cathedral.
The team was informed in an emotional meeting Monday morning, and shared both tears and laughter in the hour-long meeting as they recalled many lessons and experiences they learned and shared from their college mentor.
?Coach Simpson is one of the most respected men I have ever met in my life,? said CU senior captain Edward McGlasson said. ?I never met someone who gained as much respect in my estimation that Coach Simpson has. Words cannot describe how much I will miss him. I am extremely blessed to have had the privilege to spend the last four years of my life with him. His faith, guidance, advice and coaching in my life has made such a difference that it will be hard to imagine what it will be like without him, but I know that he is a better place right now.?
McGlasson won his first collegiate tournament to end CU?s fall season, and immediately dedicated the victory to Simpson.
?It?s an honor knowing that I am part of Coach Simpson?s program, and feel that his legacy will live on forever,? McGlasson added. ?I know that he is up in heaven and will be watching my every move, and that will make me work that much harder. I will be praying every single day for Coach and his family. Every moment with him was priceless, and everyone who was ever touched by him should feel blessed.?
Many of his former players visited him in recent weeks after the cancer was diagnosed to be inoperable and incurable. He received hundreds of cards, notes and letters from around the country and E-mails from as far away as Norway and Australia from players and their parents, colleagues and fans, many of which referred to the positive influence Simpson had in impacting their own lives.
One of those players who came to visit was Steve Jones, the first recruit he signed in 1977.
?What I remember with Mark was we were both learning at the same time,? Jones recalled Monday. ?I was one of his first players. He was learning how to coach better, and I was learning how to become a college golfer. We bumped heads a few times, which was good for us, because it helped us both to learn how to do our specific tasks. He became a good coach, I became a good golfer, and we became good friends. And we have been friends since 1977; a lot of people can?t say that about their head coaches, but I am proud to say that about Mark.?
Former CU football coach and Simpson friend Rick Neuheisel may have summed it up best in saying, ?Where Mark is going, there is no rough, and he will get to play courses that many will never get to see."
Simpson replaced his own coach, the legendary Les Fowler, in January 1977. Fowler, who passed away in early 2003, also coached the Buffs for 29 years. Only Frank Potts, who coached cross country and track for 41 seasons, and Charles Vavra, who spent 32 years at the helm of the now-defunct men?s gymnastics team, coached more seasons in any sport at Colorado than the two men who combined to lead the CU golfers for the last 58 years.
Simpson presided over 421 events as head coach, including major tournaments, the old Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Golf Association single-day competitions and dual matches; those are the fifth most in school history and no doubt one of the top numbers ever by a collegiate golf coach. Assistant coach Brad Nehe accompanied the team on the four trips in the fall as Simpson battled cancer for the second time in the past year.
On January 12, 2005, Simpson was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame, the most prestigious honor that can be afforded a collegiate head coach. In the process, he became only the second head coach at CU to be inducted into a national Hall of Fame, joining Bill Marolt, who was honored from the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame for his athletic and coaching accomplishments.
Simpson first set foot on the Boulder campus in the late 1960s, and lettered three years as a Colorado golfer, playing for Fowler from 1969-72 and often playing as the team?s No. 1 man. He went to work for the athletic department as both the assistant golf coach and facilities manager shortly thereafter.
?How can I ask my players to graduate if I haven?t done so,? he said in 1981, and thus started attending classes in addition to his coaching and facilities duties, eventually completing his course work and graduating from CU with a degree in commercial recreation in 1983.
As a result, one of the things he was most proud of was that in his reign as coach at Colorado, 119 of the 129 players he brought into the program (92.2 percent) graduated with a degree from CU.
His was named the co-Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year in 2000, as his Buffaloes finished third in the league meet and were ranked in the nation?s Top 25 for most of the year. He was also a finalist for induction into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2004, the organization recognized Simpson for his contributions to the sport and honored him with its distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.
He was the 1981 Big Eight Conference and NCAA District Five coach of the year, when his Buffaloes finished second in the league and 11th in the nation. Simpson?s teams went to the NCAA?s 15 times in his tenure; in those years CU did not go as a team, an individual has represented the Buffs on six occasions. In the Big 12 Conference, Colorado had six first division finishes in the nine years of the league?s existence, trailing only national powers Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma.
Under Simpson?s tutelage, Colorado produced seven different All-Americans who combined for 13 accolades (Jones, Tom Woodard, Terry Kahl, Rick Cramer, John Lindberg, Bobby Kalinowski and Kane Webber), in addition to 10 all-Big Eight and four all-Big 12 golfers and 15 All-America Scholars.
Jones would garner All-American honors three times and is currently on the PGA Tour. One of Simpson?s proudest moments came in 1996, when Jones won the U.S. Open in a playoff.
While Simpson had a flair for recruiting unique parts of the nation, if not internationally with CU?s success with Australians and past good fortune with Norwegians and the Swedish, his teams mostly featured homegrown players from right here in Colorado. Of the 139 players on his rosters through the years, including the 10 in 2005, 98 were Colorado products with 41 from outside the state (which included Jonathan Kaye, a former Coloradoan, and Steve Irwin, Hale?s son). Kaye is also a PGA Tour regular.
He was heavily involved in collegiate golf administration, and most recently had served as a member of the NCAA Central Regional Advisory Committee. He wrapped up eight years of service with the GCAA in 2004 as the immediate past-president of the Golf Coaches Association of America, with his main responsibilities in that role including the administering the GCAA Palmer Cup (at Kiowa Island, S.C.). He served two-and-a-half years as GCAA president (2000-2002), as he was elected as secretary in 1996 and ascended to president in January 2000. He also served on the NCAA?s Men?s Golf Committee (including two years, 1990-91, 1991-92, as chairman) and on the NCAA Golf Ethics Committee. He also served on the District Five Selection and the Golf Coaches Association?s All-American Committees.
The GCAA?s National Advisory Board also selected Simpson as the head coach of the United States team for the 1997 U.S.-Japan matches, but he could not serve due to a death in the family. He was named team leader for the same event in 1998 and 1999 and also served as the team leader for the 2000 Palmer Cup, held in Hoylake, England.
As chair of the NCAA Golf Committee, Simpson had the opportunity to work with the politics of golf. In his first year as chairman (1990-91), he played a major role in negotiations with the United States Golf Association (USGA) in resolving some pertinent issues between the organization and college golf.
Simpson was an active player in Colorado amateur golf for over two decades. He won the 1983 State Four Ball Championship, teaming with one of his former players, Todd Wood, and also won numerous tournaments around the state. He played in the Colorado Open four times.
He was very active throughout his professional career in the state of Colorado, serving as a committeeman for the Colorado Golf Association (for two decades), as a member of the CGA Tournament Committee, and on the board of directors of the Colorado Junior Golf Association, including a two-year stint as executive director. He also served on the selection committee for the Evans-Eisenhower Scholars.
Simpson was born June 25, 1950 in Durango, Colo. He took up golf his sophomore year in high school and would become Durango?s number one golfer by the time he was a senior. He also lettered in baseball, football and tennis. Simpson was an administrative assistant for the CU athletic department for nine years and served as the president of the Alumni C-Club for five years in the 1980s.
CLASSIC CU FLASHBACK: SIMPSON MEMORIES
NEW ORLEANS (January 12, 2005) ? University of Colorado men?s golf coach Mark Simpson was inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame, the first CU coach to earn the exclusive honor.
The 54-year old Simpson, named CU?s head coach 28 years ago this month, is the dean of all CU head coaches and is one of the most well-known figures in college golf circles.
?I?m completely honored and humbled that the committee would consider my coaching career worthy of this honor,? Simpson said in opening his induction speech. ?I?d like to thank the person who nominated me, but I don?t know who that is.
?About three months ago, I was having breakfast with a friend, and about three-fourths of the way through it he said, ?You know, Simpson, you have a great job.? I said, ?Yeah, I like it.? Then about two weeks later at lunch with another friend, he says to me, ?You really do have a dream job.?
?I got to thinking and I truly realized that I do have a dream job,? Simpson said. ?One, I get the special privilege to work with young 17- and 18-year olds and help mold them as people and golfers; two, I love the University of Colorado and no matter what you?ve heard about CU these last months, ninety-eight percent of what some perceive about us just isn?t true. It is truly a special place, and I?m fortunate enough to coach at my alma mater. And three, I get to coach and teach the game of golf.
?My dream job has lasted 29 years,? he continued. ?There is so much to be thankful for and people to thank. God. The University of Colorado, as (the athletic director) Eddie Crowder took a chance and named me as head coach when I was just 26 years old. All of the players who I?ve been blessed to coach and watch mature during my time at CU. My peers. The GCAA; I?ve been to Japan, Scotland, England, Ireland and all over the United States thanks to the GCAA.
Simpson closed by acknowledging that when he was a young coach, he would listen to advise of those who had been in the profession for a long time. He gave a bit of advice for younger coaches in the audience.
?If you want to be a great coach, one of the qualities you have to have is that you must relate to your players,? he said. ?Use relate as an acronym: the R is for respect; the E for edify, or to build up your players; the L for listen, as in truly listen to them; the A for authentic, be the real person you are; the T for time, and wisely spend the same amount of time with each of your players and in several areas; and the second E for expectations, for as a coach, it is extremely important to pass on your expectations of them.
?One of the quests we have is to prepare them for life, and the greatest thing I can hear is when they return years later and tell of the appreciation for what they learned from me, but more importantly, from their experiences at the University of Colorado.?
In attendance at the event were members of Simpson?s immediate family, his mother Martha, Anne Kelly, CU women?s golf coach; Mark Crabtree, the head coach at Louisville who was one of Simpson?s first players; and Eric Hoos, a former CU assistant and current head coach at Denver. CU?s Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, David Plati, a long-time friend and colleague of Simpson, presented him for induction. Some highlights of his presentation:
?I?ve been CU?s SID since 1984; five years earlier, as a freshman in the office, I was handed the men?s golf beat. After being named SID, I wasn?t about to give it up, in part due to my love for the game as well as for the sheer enjoyment I have had working with Coach Simpson and the golf team for what has now been almost 26 years. I?m probably the only SID he even remembers handling his sport...
?Mark?s induction is two-fold, one for his longevity as a respected coach, as well as for all the work he has done on behalf of college golf. He has truly thrived on being involved on the administrative side of things, and the game is better for his contributions.
?Mark is truly one of the good guys. Ask most everyone who has ever met him. I can say for fact that ?Stretch,? one of his nicknames, is truly one of the all-time most popular figures both at the University of Colorado as well as in Colorado golf circles, which honored him last September with the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame?s Lifetime Achievement Award.
?Mark has all the qualities one seeks in a college coach, some of which include:
?Humility. Mark has never been above learning and evolving as a coach. He will tell you that when he started out, he wanted all his players to like him. After a few years, he learned they didn?t want a friend; they wanted to be coached and to be mentored.
?Disciplinarian. After all, we are talking about a man who left Jonathan Kaye home from the 1993 Central Regional. To this day, he will tell you it was one of, if not the, toughest decisions he has ever had to make.
?Compassion: A freshman, Charlie Luther, hit his first collegiate drive off the then-called women?s tee markers with the ball landing several feet behind the tee box. The poor kid was even holding his pose, having no idea where the ball went until he heard the thud behind him. ?Simps? comforted him with the line, ?Don?t worry Charlie, even Tony Dorsett lost yardage on his first college carry.?
?But he also traveled the 14 hours both to and from Australia to help comfort one of his players after his father passed away. He was on hand when that player, Kane Webber, shot a 59 a day after the funeral in a family tournament played to honor his dad.
?Part-Time Nutritionist. Mark has purchased over 10,000 bananas for players to snack on during their rounds... something about the potassium I believe. Mark also thrives on finding the best Mexican food restaurant in a town so he can showcase his knowledge of the Spanish language, and loves the Louisiana Classics as he has turned many a young meat-and-potatoes golfer on to crawfish.
?Respect. How many U.S. Open winners openly thank their college golf coach publicly within minutes after victory? That?s what Steve Jones did in 1996, as well as several more times in the days afterward.
?And Good Fortune. Mark offered the same Steve Jones, his first top recruit, a full ride back in the summer of 1977 after Jones shot a 72 after a morning 86 at one of Colorado?s tougher courses, Hiwan in Evergreen. He would soon learn that a full scholarship back then was seldom ever offered and it ate up almost all of his allotted aid for the year. But it would be worth it.
?In a recent interview, Mark summed up what he thought was the best thing about the game of golf. He said, ?The greatest thing is that it teaches maturity in the sense that you can?t blame anybody or anything for your failures, you can only point the finger at yourself.?
Along with Simpson, the GCAA also inducted South Carolina?s Puggy Blackmon, Allegheny?s Norm Sundstrom and Stanford?s Eddie Twiggs.
Q & A WITH MARK SIMPSON (CUBUFFS.COM, 2004)
Q: What was your first tournament like as a head coach and how do things differ today?
Simpson: ?The game itself has changed tremendously in the sense that the equipment has changed. The golf courses that we played 25, 28 years ago are essentially the same that they are today, other than tree or shrub growth, but they don?t play the same. We?ve played in Albuquerque in the Tucker (Invitational) every year, and that course plays different than it did when I started simply by how far the golf ball goes. A shot into the green that required a 6- or 7-iron in 1978 might very well be a wedge shot today. The structure of college golf remains the same. There were a few dual matches back then, but not many. The whole flavor of college golf shifted to, ?take five and count four? right around when I became a head coach. The other big change is how much the golf companies are involved in college golf. When we first got started, we barely could get to a tournament, let alone supply the team with uniforms. I think I gave the guys three golf balls for the tournament, now they get a dozen, along with shirts, pants, bags, all given to us by the golf companies.
A huge deal to us is that after Steve (Jones) came here, he got three clubs and a dozen balls from Titleist, and that?s part of the reason that he remained loyal to them for so long.
?The numbers have also grown since then. I?d say that there might be close to twice as many that have golf programs right now; back then, only 10 put an emphasis on college golf in 1977, but now about 150 have said that they want to win a national championship and fund the program that way.?
Q: Describe your coaching style and how it?s changed through the years?
Simpson: ?The first thing I learned is that the players are not looking for a friend, they are looking for a coach. I thought the ?I want to be a friend-type? mentality was the way to go before I really became a coach; I started out wanting all of them to like me. But after a few years, the mentality sunk in that they didn?t want a friend, they wanted to be coached, be mentored. My understanding of the game has simplified to the point where I can present methods to them that explain why they played poorly, and why they played well. The sport of golf hasn?t changed; the basic principles are still those, basic.?
Q: What?s the difference between recruiting now and when you started in 1977?
Simpson: ?In 1977, my best guess is that there were one, two or maybe three coaches at the United States Junior Championships. Last summer, there were almost 100. That?s a reflection on how the sport has grown and how all of us look at the big tournaments in the summer. The junior golf association?s growth is obviously big, and there are many more opportunities now for a young golfer to take his or her game on the road. Twenty-five years ago, it was a word of mouth deal, you rarely saw kids form outside your own state. Now you can see players from all over the world. The recruiting process is about the same, but the evaluation process has totally changed. And when I started, I received 30, maybe 40 letters from kids with an interest in playing; now I get something like six or seven hundred.?
Q: Any good recruiting stories? How did you discover Steve Jones (his first recruit)?
Simpson: ?The U.S. junior was at Hiwan in 1975 or 1976, and I didn?t attend because I wasn?t head coach then. But one of the kids on the team said there?s a kid from Yuma that you really need to check out. That was in March, and he was talking about the previous summer. So I went down and watched Steve play in the local U.S. Open qualifying at Columbine. He shot, I think, an 86 in the morning, and came back with a 72. If he had shot 86-85, I probably would have backed away. Then he finished second in the state stroke play, and I offered him 75 percent of a scholarship. Then New Mexico State got on him, and I got scared so I offered him a full ride. I learned later that full rides were extremely rare back then, and still are today (schools are allotted 4.5 scholarships for men?s golf).?
Q: What are some of the funniest stories you?ve seen during your tenure?
Simpson: ?Well, the funniest is when Charlie Luther lost yardage on his first collegiate shot (it hit a tree and landed behind the tee). He was very nervous, his first meet, so I told him just to be calm, make a par, and that he didn?t have to do anything spectacular. So he strikes his ball, and it goes ?Bang!, Bang!? His shot had hit the ladies tee markers about 20 feet ahead of him and went straight up in the air and came down three feet behind. So he?s holding his pose, but he didn?t know where the ball was until it landed. So I told him, ?Don?t worry, even Bo Jackson lost yardage on his first collegiate carry? ... and he said, ?Well coach, there are lot of ways to make a par.? That was a fun time, because we wound up winning that tournament (the 1988 New Mexico State Coca Cola Classic) and that night at dinner, we just couldn?t stop laughing.?
Q: What are you most proud of?
Simpson: ?One thing I certainly am proud of is looking around and seeing the guys who have gone through the program, seeing where they are today and what successes they?ve become in life. I try to keep in touch with as many of them as I can. I?m also proud of the graduation rate that they?ve put together, and am proud that we?ve done things right through the years and more often than not have been nationally competitive.?
Q: This is hard to do, but if you had to pick a 12-man Ryder Cup-like All-Star team of the players you coached, who would make it and why?
Simpson: ?Well, based on what they did in college, meaning their competitiveness, their successes and approach, the first five would include Steve Jones, Jonathan Kaye, John Lindberg, Bobby Kalinowski and Scott Petersen. Then I?d add Kane Webber and Ben Portie, Rick Cramer, Terry Kahl and Mark Crabtree, Matt Call and Joe Liley. But you know, I could fill a second team just as easy.?
Q: Do you have any regrets that you?ve basically dedicated your professional life to the game of golf for 30-plus years?
Simpson: ?No, not at all. I don?t look at it that way. I have a love for the University of Colorado, golf, and working with young men. So I look at it that I?ve dedicated my occupation to, not my life.?
Q: Would you have remained in coaching for this long if you weren?t at your alma mater?
Simpson: ?I think I probably would have. But that kind of question is too difficult to answer. I remember the day I was named head coach, at that time, it was the best day in my life, a huge deal to me. At that point, being fortunate to be named as a head coach at the University of Colorado was and is a privilege to be able to serve in that position.?
Q: Anything elusive out there that you really want to accomplish?
Simpson: ?I still have a strong desire to win an NCAA championship and bring that to Colorado. A conference championship would be nice, but if I had to pick one or the other, the national championship is what I?d really like to achieve for the school.?
Q: Who was the best ball striker you?ve coached? Best putter? Best manager of his game?
Simpson: ?The best ball strikers were Rick Cramer, John Lindberg and JK (Jonathan Kaye). Tom Lee, Ben Portie and Steve Jones are all right there as the best putters. And John Lindberg was a great manager of his game. He had a lot of shots, and he knew when to apply them better than anyone I?ve ever seen. He definitely played to his strengths, and that?s what a good manager does, he plays to his strengths.?
Q: What?s the one thing you love about coaching? And the one thing you hate?
Simpson: ?The one thing I love is to see them come in as raw freshmen, and to see how much they mature after spending four or five years in the program. It?s really special to see that, along with the opportunity to compete. The most exciting time of the year I?ve always thought is at the tail end, the conference championship and then the NCAA?s. What I hate is all the red tape and bureaucracy you have to go through now.?
Q: Have you ever scored a hole-in-one or a double eagle?
Simpson: ?The best round I ever had in competition was a 63 at a 9-hole course in Moab, Utah. I have not had a hole in one in competition, but I?ve had two, when I was playing with a bunch of coaches 20 years ago, and the other was at the par-3 course at Boulder Country Club when I was playing with my daughters.?
Q: What?s the greatest thing about the game of golf?
Simpson: ?The greatest thing is that it teaches maturity in the sense that you can?t blame anybody or anything for your failures, you can only point the finger at yourself.?