One of the better coaches in Neosho County Community College soccer history announced his departure three weeks ago and the resignation of Rafael Simmons was made official at the college’s Board of Trustees meeting Monday.
Instead of coaching the soccer program’s futbol players for the upcoming year, Simmons will be a director of coaching for the Tulsa Soccer Club. Simmons’ last day at NCCC was Monday, and his first day in Tulsa was the same day.
Simmons, who went 57-34-2 as the head coach for the men’s team for five years and 22-39-2 as the women’s head coach for four years, said he sensed a difficult fork in the road.
“It was a hard decision to make. I’ve been here for five years and I’ve really enjoyed my time here … and the people we worked with,” Simmons said. “I think the program has done really well, both men and women. And I’ve made a great connection with the players, so it was kind of bittersweet leaving. But the opportunity that I got was a little hard to turn down, for myself and my family. It was a hard decision to make, but I think it was the best for my family going forward.”
He will become a director of coaching of Tulsa Soccer Club, joining Elite Club National League, which is the highest level of youth soccer in the United States. Simmons’ new job duties will include mentoring coaches, being in charge of the administration of that region, and coaching some teams, too.
Although Simmons is excited about his new opportunity in Tulsa, the former NCCC coach from Brazil remembers some of the better moments with the Panthers.
The first moment was the 2017 men’s team, when the Panthers won the KJCCC East Conference for the third time in the history of the program. This broke the program record for most wins and fewest losses in a single season.
In 2017, NCCC finished the year with a 15-4-1 record. Arguably the most important player for the Panthers, first-team All-KJCCC goalkeeper Moussa Sy, who transferred to a Division I soccer program, brought stability and fear from teams that knew of his talents.
Other notables on the team included twins and first-team All-KJCCC players Miguel and Marcos Lucero, who both went on to play D-I. Marcos was a floater, and was also the National NJCAA Player of the Week for two weeks; Marcos was at least the third player ever in the program to achieve the accolade. The twins consistently showed up in big spots.
“I think that was a great achievement – it was great for our players,” Simmons continued.
This past season was memorable for Simmons as well. Thanks to the coaching of Simmons and Nelson Landaverde, a former NCCC Panther who won conference titles as player and coach, the Panthers were ranked No. 7 in the country, the highest rank the program has ever been. And to Simmons, the 2019 season, a campaign that culminated with a 12-6 record, was the best overall roster he ever coached.
NCCC started the season 7-0 thanks to forward Alfie Belcher, who was the leading goal scorer in the nation for six weeks straight. Belcher finished 2019 with 16 goals, second in the nation and conference.
Defesive midfielder Matheus Paes, midfielder Elie Lubino and midfielder Renan Santos, all All-KJCCC players, were also workhorses. Lubino went to Division I Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania, while Santos is going to Division I University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Paes will be back with NCCC next year.
Simmons said these players were a part of something special.
“That’s another great achievement for the guys, being able to be amongst the elite soccer programs in the nation, so that was great,” Simmons said.
On the women’s side, Simmons took over a team in 2016 that didn’t win a game in the previous year. But from 2016 to 2018, the team improved every year – the Lady Panthers in 2016 were 0-17 and in 2018 went 10-9.
“For me, the greatest achievement for the women’s team was turning that program around. We went from a team that didn’t win a game in two years to having numbers, and getting back to the win column I think. I think this past fall we struggled a little bit, but last year we actually finished the season 10-9, so we were just above the winning column. And I think that’s really big in the case of two years, being able to turn that program around.”
But now it’s time for a new opportunity for Simmons with his wife and two sets of twin babies. Simmons can’t thank the college enough.
“It opened a lot of doors,” he said. “I started the job in July of 2015, and being as though I was a little bit younger, I took it as it would be a stepping stone, spend two years here and try and find somewhere better. It was hard to leave. I had some opportunities for a couple years in a row to leave, but I decided to stay because of the people and players. They make a huge difference. And then you recruit a kid, a lot of them decide to play for the program because of the coach. And I felt an obligation to serve that and not leave them hanging, so it definitely opened up a lot of opportunities, a lot of doors. Ones in the past haven’t been the right one, this one was.
“For me personally, I hope and I think the soccer community in Chanute is continuing to grow and getting bigger, not only with the high school, but with the rec programs. And I think soccer is going to really take off here in a couple years. I think that’s not only going to be a great benefit for the college, but for everyone.”