After a successful college career at Florida State, USF linebackers coach Ernie Sims was drafted ninth overall by a struggling Detroit Lions team in 2006. Sims said playing in Detroit taught him valuable lessons that he’d now like to convey to his current players.
“I unexpectedly went to a team that was very, very bad in terms of the culture,” Sims said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “In hindsight, I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life. I had to grow up real fast as a young man.
“It taught me a lot through a lot of failure … We were the only team to go 0-16. I vividly remember some of the moments that we had in team meetings and meeting rooms with our defensive coordinator, and just the locker room talks, and the losses, it was a memory that sticks in my mind to this day.”
Sims said he tries to draw from the negative experiences he had in Detroit and twist them into lessons he can share with the players he coaches today.
“Going back on and reminiscing on those moments that I had in Detroit, I can pour those experiences back into the young men,” Sims said. “So when I’m trying to motivate them and I’m trying to get them to do something they feel like is so hard for them to accomplish, I can really get into their minds and motivate them to do something they feel they can’t do by themselves.
“That’s really one of the biggest things I take pride in because if it had not been for my experiences there in Detroit, I would not have this opportunity to kind of educate and guide these young men.”
One of those young men Sims is looking to influence is sophomore linebacker Mac Harris, who tallied 24 total tackles and an interception through seven games in his freshman season with the Bulls in 2020.
A former high school safety who moved to linebacker in college, Harris is expected to step into a “big role” next season on both special teams and defense, according to Sims.
“I see a big role out of Mac. One of my goals going into this spring, I want linebackers to have a greater role on special teams,” Sims said. “Just [from] my experience playing in the league, that’s one of the ways I really made a name for myself, playing special teams. Special teams are going to play a big role on our team. When it comes to Mac and creating more depth, we have our top guys [at linebacker], but Mac is in that picture.
“I firmly believe that he’s going to be able to help us next year not only on special teams but on defense as well. Right now, we see him as a guy that can step in and help us at any position right now. Obviously, he has to grow up a little bit, it’s his second year he has some things he has to work on, but for the most part I think Mac is a very talented young man. [We] just have to keep working with him, being consistent and showing up every single day.”
Harris said the players have respect for each of their coaches, but Sims being a former NFL player as well as only being 36 years old adds a little bit of prestige to the messages he sends.
“Coach Sims has been there, he’s done a lot of things that we as linebackers want to do in the future,” Harris said. “So, the way he communicates to us, and the things that he preaches to us, we take to heart and we do very intently because he’s been there before.
“All of the coaches have credibility, they have their jobs for a reason, but yeah him being in the NFL previously and him being a young guy definitely helps us because he understands us being young, and like I said him being in the NFL, being where we want to get [to], it definitely speaks volumes to us.”
Sims, who arrived to USF last season as a defensive quality control analyst, was promoted to linebackers coach in January.
He said he had to turn down a position as director of player engagement at his alma mater in order to accept the promotion with the Bulls, but according to him, he had good reason to stay.
“As you all would imagine, Florida State was a very attractive opportunity for me … But I told coach Scott this, I firmly want to be here because I believe in where this program is going,” Sims said. “I believe in the people coach Scott has assembled here in Florida. I’ve been around a lot of different coaches, I’ve been around a lot of different programs and organizations, that matters a lot, and I saw a ton of value in that.
“Obviously being a position coach, that right there does not come so often, so it was hard for me to turn that away as well, but I think more so than anything, the opportunity to be around quality people, around a quality group of young men that I can nurture, and I can cultivate and I can build and have my very own was something I wanted and I desired more than anything else. That’s ultimately the reason why I chose to stay here.”