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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Column: A grand finale

It must have just hit him.

Women’s basketball coach Sandy Simpson, one of the most sincere coaches UC Davis has to offer, had just coached his final home regular season game Saturday afternoon. Like he’s done for the past 14 years, he walked into the media room to give his post-game opinion. There’s usually an Aggie reporter and a media relations person there to greet him.

Except this post-game press conference was special – it was the last time he’d have to give one after a regular season game.

He sat down at the podium probably expecting to field questions about Senior Night and the Aggies’ dominating 83-67 win. Instead he had to talk about the emotions of it all.

“Everybody was asking me all week, ‘How do you feel?’ and I hadn’t felt anything until today,” Simpson said after the game. “I was the first one here for shoot-around this morning and I was looking around and it finally hit me that this was potentially my last game [at the Pavilion.]

“I’m proud to go out with this team. This is a very, very good day for me.”

And then it all hit him. The adrenaline of the game had worn off and the realities of the last home regular season game set in and the 14-year coach cried.

“Its cliché and everyone says it, but I’ll miss the players, staff and coaches,” Simpson said. “I made it all the way through today but I’ll miss the players and the daily interaction the most.”

It takes a lot to make a grown man cry. And for Sandy Simpson to do so truly shows how much he cares about what he does and how he does it. He’s committed and gives 110 percent to everything he does.

It’s this sense of caring and passion that will make Simpson one of the most universally well-liked individuals in UC Davis athletics history.

This was just my second time interviewing Simpson and one of my questions made him tear up. This is by no means a designation I’m proud of. Think about it from Simpson’s perspective. Here comes this reporter he hasn’t seen all season asking questions like the ones I did.

I am glad, however, that I got to see the real Sandy Simpson. A humble, realistic individual who truly loves what he does. This is something that fans don’t get a chance to see. They see the coaches and players as role models – people who simply think mechanically and don’t experience the emotions of it all.

And let’s face it, I’m just a fan. Sure I got this nifty suffix after my name, but in the end, I just enjoy watching the games. Whenever I would interview a coach, I would get the mechanics: why did the Aggies do this or what was the difference between this game and last game? Rarely do I get to see the raw emotion like I did Saturday afternoon.

This reason alone is why Simpson will go down as one of the best coaches in UC Davis history. Sure, he’s been one of the most successful coaches. He led the women’s basketball team through the Division I transition and earned two NCAA postseason births.

But it’s the emotional side that he will be remembered for the most. He’ll be remembered simply as a nice, caring guy that wanted to make sure he was doing everything right.

For future head coach Jennifer Gross, replacing Simpson’s basketball acumen will be difficult. Replacing him as a humble, caring and tremendous human being might be impossible.

JASON ALPERT would like to remind all Aggie fans that Sandy Simpson is guaranteed one last home game. It will come in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament on Tuesday, March 8. Let’s give Simpson a remarkable send off and pack the Pavilion to the rafters. To talk women’s basketball, e-mail Jason at sports@theaggie.org.

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