Time and time again in the college football ranks, Penn running backs coach David Sims has learned that it’s not just about what you know, it’s about who you know.
As he has progressed through the coaching ladder, Sims is never surprised when he meets a former coach or player when job hunting. He has shared the gridiron and coaching ranks with many accomplished players and coaches at Georgia Tech, Shorter University, and Furman University.
As a player for the Buzz, Sims was a three-year starter as running back from 2011 to 2013, serving as team captain and earning honorable mention All-ACC honors after running for 884 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sims finished his career ranked 11th on Georgia Tech's all-time rushing list with over 2,200 yards and ranked seventh in rushing touchdowns with 23. He aspired to play in the NFL after graduation, but he wasn’t able to sign on anywhere despite working with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in training camp.
“I had always known I wanted to coach after football from a very young age, and so after the opportunity with the Bucs didn’t work out, I came into a great position at Shorter through one of my offensive line coaches, Mike Sewak, who knew the offensive coordinator, Charlie Hopkins, at Shorter," Sims said. "You’d be surprised — it’s two-to-three degrees of separation in college football.”
Sims had a lot of early opportunities to make an impact at Shorter, working with running backs, quarterbacks, defensive backs, and directly with the head coach. And at Shorter, the staff ran multiple schemes, giving Sims hard-to-find, versatile coaching experiences.
“My first year, we ran the triple, and the fact that I knew the triple scheme well from my playing career was one of the main reasons I got hired. But my second year, they brought in a new head coach and we used the pro scheme more,” Sims said.
After two years at Shorter, Sims saw a coaching position open up at Furman. Sims had coached and played with a number of current Furman coaches, and after interviewing in 2017, he agreed to join Furman’s coaching staff as running backs coach, where he stayed for four years. Sims envisioned himself at Furman for the foreseeable future.
“I really enjoyed my role at Furman and we had some great running backs, so I wasn’t really looking for other running backs positions. And at Furman, I also got to run pretty much any run scheme you can imagine because we did so many different things on offense. There were only a few places I’d see as a better situation than what I had,” Sims said. “When I heard about [Steven] Downs retiring, a friend of mine at Princeton put in a good word for me, and I ended up going through that interview process and starting here this past July.”
Coming to Penn has been an adjustment for the South Carolina native, who has never lived above the Mason-Dixon line. Even so, Sims is already starting to pay dividends for Penn football — the Quakers ran for a season-high 328 yards against Lehigh.
“The approach at Penn has been the most different aspect I’ve noticed. Georgia Tech, Shorter, and Furman were all very run-dominant schemes where we rotated multiple talented backs throughout the game who also doubled as receivers and tight ends in some cases,” Sims said. “We throw the ball more and do different things personnel-wise, and we rarely play two running backs at once. But at the end of the day, it’s all about finding good matchups for guys like Isaiah [Malcolme], Trey [Flowers], and Jonathan [Mulatu].”
Sims was impressed with his running backs’ performance in the Quakers’ victory over Lehigh. In his words, effort — until the whistle blows — is the biggest factor in getting things going on the ground for the Red and Blue.
“It’s easy to get in a rhythm when you’re on the field for a longer time at the beginning of the game and you’re not playing from behind, but I think the effort our guys gave — even Ryan [Cragun] and Rory [Starkey Jr.] hitting key blocks on some of those long runs — those are difference makers.”
This fall, Sims is excited to be back in fan-filled stadiums staying around the game he loves. Still, he appreciates some of the silver linings of the pandemic.
“Zoom opened up this world of easy access to guys I’ve looked up to my whole career, and all these famous coaches and athletes were really easy to connect with because everyone was in the same boat,” Sims said. “But there’s nothing like being back on the field, building team spirit and going on recruiting trips. I am glad this is a part of my life again.”
Having only been in Philadelphia for a few months, Sims hopes he can find some great eats around the city.
“This is my first time living in Philadelphia, and I did most of the tourist stuff when I visited a few years back, like climbing the Rocky Steps," Sims said. "Some of the other coaches have good insider information about some family-owned places around the city, and I’m excited to get a chance to explore these.”
Just like coaching, it’s all about who you know to find the best cheesesteak.