Roy Jr. treats his teams like fine pieces of art. "They're collages," he says. "I've got a frame, and within those confines I have to go out and find the medium, the players: boys who are defensively very agile, quick ones talented at shooting, others good at dodging without the ball or stopping shots. And the talent must work as a team, not a one-man show." This season's collage is 3-0, including a 10-9 last-second win over highly touted North Carolina in the Orange's March 10 opener.
Roy Jr. inherited the job of coaching Syracuse lacrosse from his father in 1971, at a time when the school was de-emphasizing non-revenue sports. In his early years as coach, he sometimes had to comb the campus before games for volunteers to fill out his squad. He raised money for road trips by having his players sell raffle tickets and bottles of musk oil door to door. There was so little money for equipment that the team once had to borrow a goalie's stick from Cornell, its opponent that day.
And the lack of funding showed. By Roy Jr.'s fourth season, Syracuse's record had fallen to 2-9, and it was losing to Division III teams by as many as 22 goals. One day, a Division I team, Cornell, thrashed the Orange so badly that he put two players in the goal. "That's something I'd never do again," he says. "I was as much as admitting we couldn't win. I should've been fired for that."
On another occasion fans at Hobart pelted him with dead carp and yelled, "Go back to your studio. You're a lousy painter." After Roy Jr. and his sons, Ronnie and Roy III, who were then team mascots, returned home, his wife, Nancy, asked how the game had gone.
"We lost," said Ronnie and slunk off to his room.
"What was the score?"
"I don't know," said Roy III tearfully, "but they threw fish at Daddy."
With a little scholarship aid, Roy Jr. built a team. Last year's championship squad was assembled with transfers from four different schools, a second-string Indian goalie, and 10 guys from a local high school, West Genesee; Simmons had two full scholarships at his disposal last year, which he spread among eight players.
"Roy's an enigma," says Phillip Booth, Syracuse's poet in residence and an avid Orange lacrosse fan. He says Simmons' handling of the team makes for "a very interesting psychodrama. Keats called it a 'negative capability': Not to appear as an executive officer or a John Wayne leading the troops into Iowa, to make them meld and want something they didn't quite know they wanted."
"He's a have-fun-and-learn-at-the-same-time kind of coach," says Syracuse midfielder Brad Kotz, last year's Lacrosse Association Player of the Year. And an easygoing, low-pressure kind of recruiter. "He's not a loudmouth like a lot of coaches who came to see me," says All-America attackman Tim Nelson. "He spoke honestly to me, like a real person."