Allegations threaten Simmons' pride, joy Syracuse coach fights for reputation

May 28, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

The allegations are lodged in the back of Roy Simmons Jr.'s mind like a bad memory.

His phone rings constantly. The flow of mail has doubled. Some of his longtime friends ignore him, others support him.

Simmons, 57, is under siege, fighting for a reputation that took him 23 years to build. He has a 229-82 lacrosse record that includes four national championships and a three-peat reign from 1988 through 1990. He is the third-winningest active coach in college lacrosse, and his team has 11 straight national semifinal appearances. And he has accomplished it all at Syracuse.

"I love Syracuse, and I love the tradition," said Simmons, whose No. 3 Orangemen (10-2) will meet No. 2 Princeton (13-1) tomorrow at Maryland in a Division I semifinal. "I bleed orange. I inherited a program where my father spent 42 years of his life. Now, this.

"It would have been great to one day walk off into the sunset, but I can't now, not with this mess on me," he said.

The allegations first appeared May 7, in the Syracuse Post Standard. Former goalie Jerry DeLorenzo, who played for the Orangemen in the late 1980s, alleged that Simmons improperly gave him $40 in cash, that Syracuse assistant coach John Desko guided him to a professor who gave DeLorenzo an A in sociology before he did any work, that the university is improperly suing him for an overdue bill of $5,656.62 for tuition.

It also has been alleged that Simmons' wife, Nancy, co-signed a car loan for former Syracuse All-America midfielder Paul Gait.

The university has begun an internal investigation of its lacrosse program, which last year lost three scholarships as the result of an NCAA investigation that determined the Orangemen went over their yearly limit of 12.5 scholarships.

DeLorenzo could not be reached for comment yesterday, and the Syracuse administration is not talking about the investigation.

But Simmons said this has been a difficult time for his family.

His mother, Thelma, is 91. His father, Roy Simmons Sr., 93, coached the Orangemen from 1931 to 1970. Both father and son are in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

"This is weighing heavily on my father," Simmons Jr. said.

"I've been told that once I step on the field, everything I do becomes public. But now my wife and children have become targets, and I'm supposed to just sit back and do nothing while my reputation is being insulted.

"This is not UNLV or Oklahoma," said Simmons. "I have a modest salary. I live in an 1880 farm house. I'm not [Syracuse basketball coach] Jim Boeheim. I don't have a $150,000 Nike contract. I have to buy my own Nikes. They're the guys they need to go after. I've run a clean, honest program, one with integrity. If these allegations were in a court of law, they would be thrown out. They probably wouldn't have made it that far."

Simmons addressed several of the allegations Wednesday afternoon.

DeLorenzo, who quit the team twice and later played at Towson State during the 1992 season, has said that Desko promised on March 1, 1991, to pay $3,744 of the $5,656.62 from lacrosse funds, according to the Post Standard.

But, according to Simmons, the NCAA recently had said the Orangemen were over the aid limit. There were no funds for DeLorenzo.

School officials and DeLorenzo, however, worked out an agreement in which DeLorenzo would work for the university after graduation until his bill was paid, Simmons and the newspaper said.

In return, the university agreed to pay DeLorenzo's room, board and tuition so he could finish his degree.

But DeLorenzo, with the help of Syracuse coaches, transferred and played out his last year of eligibility with Towson State.

He returned to Syracuse last fall, and the school honored the agreement.

But DeLorenzo reportedly became unhappy with his off-campus apartment, and eventually complained about the school's lacrosse program, the Post Standard said.

He earned his degree this spring, but the university will not give him a diploma until his bill is paid.

"He called and told me he wanted his degree from Syracuse, where he spent three years, and not Towson State," said Simmons. "He begged me to come back. He had no eligibility left, couldn't help our lacrosse team, but the university still worked out a deal with him.

"I didn't think this situation would become so nasty, so ugly," said Simmons.

Simmons said the $40 he supposedly slipped DeLorenzo was meal money -- allowed under NCAA rules -- he gave to every player when the Orangemen played at Adelphi.

As for the car loan, Simmons said there are two parts to the story. "One is whether I knew about it; two, Nancy's individual rights," said Simmons. "I knew nothing about it, and I know that sounds hard to believe. But my wife is an independent woman. She doesn't consider herself a representative of the university. She didn't ask me. She didn't tell me. Just did it. She does not see herself as my appendage."

NCAA rules prevent a university representative from co-signing a loan for a student.

Paul Gait was unavailable for comment, but twin brother Gary, who also played at Syracuse, said: "I don't think the coach knew anything about it. I know I didn't. I thought he [Paul] went out and got a loan the same way I got one.

"There has always been a lot of rumors about Syracuse when we played there," said Gary Gait, who has a degree in political science. "They said we were 25 or 26 years old when we were playing. Always something. I think people need to let go of that era. It's over. The positive in all of this is that I bet Coach Simmons has already given them the 'Let's win this one and stick it to the NCAA' speech."

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