Jason Simpson will return Thursday to a place he knows well, Finley Stadium.
Simpson spent three seasons (2003-05) as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's offensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at UT-Martin. Now in his eighth season, Martin will lead his Skyhawks against the Mocs for the first time. It will be the first meeting between the schools since 1993.
The Mocs lead the series 3-0.
"It's just a great city and I certainly enjoyed the three years I was there," Simpson said in a phone interview Friday. "Unfortunately we lost a lot more than we won."
Simpson ran the offense during Rodney Allison's first three seasons, as the Mocs went 11-23, including 6-5 in 2005 -- the program's first winning season since 1997. After that season UT-Martin came calling and Simpson headed across the state, replacing Matt Griffin. He wasn't quite done with UTC assistant athletic director for facilities and equipment Mike Royster, however.
The Skyhawks didn't have an equipment manager when Simpson arrived, he said, so he reached out to Royster for some help.
"I picked up the phone and called Mike Royster, and he walked me through how many shoulder pads I needed, how many helmets, pairs of shoes," Simpson said, laughing at the story. "I didn't have an equipment staff here -- we didn't have that in place -- and as a coach I didn't know about all that stuff.
"I didn't think he ever liked me when I was there, but, man, he was so gracious to me when I left."
In December 2008 it looked like Simpson might be returning to UTC. He was one of three finalists for the job at the end of a nine-week search for Allison's replacement, along with Russ Huesman and Hugh Freeze, now the head coach at Ole Miss.
The job went to the former Mocs safety, Huesman, who had just helped win the Football Championship Subdivision national championship as Richmond's defensive coordinator. Huesman is 23-21 in his four seasons with the Mocs, who are ranked No. 25 in the coaches' preseason poll.
There have been numerous Mocs-Skyhawks connections in the past few years, most of them being assistant coaches under Simpson (Marcus Satterfield, Geep Wade, Jimmy Lindsey, Alex Atkins and Brandon Cooper) winding up in Chattanooga. -- either directly or later in their careers. Satterfield, Wade and Lindsey have moved on, while Atkins is entering his second season with the Mocs and Cooper arrived in March.
Simpson's replacement as UTC's offensive coordinator, Carmen Felus, was with the Mocs for three seasons and is now entering his third season on Simpson's staff.
Atkins and Cooper know Simpson well. They played for him as seniors in Simpson's first season at UT-Martin, in 2006, when the Skyhawks won the Ohio Valley Conference and made the program's only appearance in the FCS playoffs.
"He came in and he was a little bit different than Coach Griffin," Atkins said Saturday. "Coach Simpson was more like, we're going to find out what we do best and do that. We found out we didn't throw it well, and so we probably ran the Power 45 times a game."
Last season the Skyhawks ranked No. 10 in the FCS in passing with 299.6 yards per game. Simpson has to replace last season's quarterback, Derek Carr, and the three players competing for the job are redshirt sophomores Jarod Neal and Tyler Rice and transfer Dylan Favre.
"I won't name a starter until probably the opening kickoff," Simpson said. "All three of those guys can play, and I think all three will be in some games this year."
The Mocs got a tasty treat at the end of Friday's practice in the form of ice-cream sandwiches. They got another surprise Saturday morning when, after position meetings, Huesman informed them that they weren't practicing. ... UTC will practice this afternoon at Scrappy Moore Field. ... Huesman is speaking to the Chattanooga Quarterback Club at noon Monday in the Stadium Club at Finley Stadium.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.