MSSU coach helps Arlington Hambright on road to NFL

Globe file: Missouri Southern head coach Jeff Sims stands with his players before the start of the Lions' 2019 season finale against Pittsburg State at Carnie Smith Stadium.

Former Missouri Southern State University head football coach Jeff Sims will receive more than $110,000 in severance and administrative-leave pay before his employment at the university officially concludes Jan. 31.

The university announced on Dec. 2 that Sims had been “relieved of his duties.” No reason was given.

Sims was in his second year with the Lions and went 2-9 in his first season in 2019; there was no season this past fall because of COVID-19.

In accordance with a separation agreement between MSSU and Sims, Southern placed Sims on paid administrative leave and will continue to pay his annualized base salary ($125,000 per year) through Jan. 31 to accommodate the 60-day notice of termination that was agreed upon in Sims’ initial employment contract. Sims received $10,416.67 in administrative leave pay for December and will receive an equal payment at the end of January.

Also per the agreement, MSSU will pay Sims a severance of $90,000 with his final annualized base salary payment at the end of January.

The records were obtained by the Globe through a Missouri Sunshine Law request.

Globe attempts to contact MSSU President Dean Van Galen for comment were unsuccessful.

Sims also said he was unable to comment specifically on the separation agreement and its details, but added: "I’m very proud and thankful for my coaches. We brought a great group of players in there, and there are really good people in Joplin and at Missouri Southern. But as I said when we separated, when there’s a new administration, they get to pick their coaches and professors. It’s just like I get to pick my quarterback as coach.

"Dr. Van Galen and the administration, I’m sure they have a plan that they feel is best for them. I wish everyone well at Missouri Southern. Our family will continue to do well, and we’ll move forward."

Linebacker coach Joe Bettasso, a former MSSU player, will serve as interim head coach through the upcoming spring football season, which begins in February. Bettasso held the interim role in the final eight weeks of the Lions' 2018 season, prior to the hiring of Sims.

Jared Bruggeman, director of athletics at MSSU, will step down from the position at the conclusion of the winter sports season in mid-March, the university announced Monday. Bruggeman has served as director of athletics at Missouri Southern since 2009. He will continue to serve Missouri Southern through May, collaborating on the potential development of a sports management program and on select athletic fundraising projects.

Cori Reid, the assistant athletic director for facilities and event management, will become the interim director of athletics beginning mid-March.

In the meantime, MSSU will be searching for a new head football coach for the third time since 2015. The Lions have gone 6-49 in that span.

"I hope that they choose someone who will give the players and the coaches a fair opportunity," Sims said. "And the ones that will help them reach their goals, I’d like to see them do well. ... I believe that the next football coach will be a good coach. I actually believed the football coaches before me were good football coaches."

As for his own future, Sims said coaching football again remains as a possibility. 

"In coaching, you have to find the right opportunities ...," Sims said. "What I need to do now is find the place that I fit. When I find that place, I will take that opportunity. This time of year, everybody’s looking. You look at all options. So this will be a family decision, and we’ll go from there."

A former head coach at Garden City (Kansas) Community College, Sims brought an accolade-filled resume with him to MSSU that included a National Junior College Athletic Association national title in 2016, as well as a runner-up finish in 2018. Overall, Sims was 77-31 as a junior college football coach, leading four teams to undefeated regular seasons and three to national title games.

Sims also was the focal point of investigations following the death of football player Braeden Bradforth from exertional heat stroke in 2018, while at Garden City, and one of those investigations, was critical of Sims and other representatives of the junior college. The death of Bradforth drew national attention and led to a call by members of Congress to review and prevent exertional heat stroke deaths among athletes. A settlement was reached between Garden City Community College and Bradforth's family in August. As part of the settlement, Sims was absolved of liability. Other details of the settlement were not made public.

A handful of Missouri Southern football players have announced their intention to transfer from the program in the wake of Sims' dismissal. Among them is junior linebacker Richard Jordan Jr., who totaled 120 tackles to the lead the MIAA and rank seventh in NCAA Division II in 2019.

"As far as student-athletes leaving, I have been contacted by players," Sims said. "The only direction I’ve ever given them is that hasty decisions are not good decisions. So, in my opinion, they should stay and see what the next semester holds. Now, with the NCAA having transfer rules and things like that, I feel like they should see what their options are and not just assume that it’s going to be bad."

Former MSSU passing game coordinator and recruiting coordinator Daniel McKinney announced on Twitter Monday that he had accepted an offer to be a passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at Pittsburg (Kansas) State University. 

"First I would like to thank MSSU for the opportunity to work with some great people," McKinney tweeted. "Would like to thank (Jeff Sims) for believing in me."

McKinney helped the Lions amass 3,790 passing yards and 22 touchdowns during the 2019 season as MSSU broke 17 offensive school records. He was a wide receiver for Brian Wright, now the head coach at PSU, back in his playing days at Florida Atlantic University.

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