Jeter relentlessly pursues excellence at alma mater

by Hunter Hillygus, Sports Editor

This wasn’t always the plan for Matt Jeter.

The goal was always to be a head coach, but landing at his alma mater, Simpson College, was never at the forefront of his mind. He was happy at the University of Central Missouri, where had been the special teams coordinator and later the defensive coordinator for the past six years.

“I was driving home when (a colleague) called me and told me the Simpson job had opened up,” Jeter said. “At the time it didn’t really hit me that I have to go interview for this job. I’ve never really specified that I want to be at this place or that place. As a young coach, for me, the goal was just to be a head football coach.”

But when Simpson Athletic Director Brian Niemuth contacted Jeter, the opportunity to drive to Indianola for an interview was too good to pass up. The nearly four-hour drive from Warrensburg, Missouri, where Central Missouri is located, was a time to ponder whether or not this job was the best for him and his family.

“As I’m driving up here, there’s a little anxiety,” Jeter said. “I wanted the job, you know, and then it’s like, is this the best thing for my family. Is my wife going to need to transfer? Where are my kids going to go to school? All of those things are just running through your head at that time.”

After one interview, Jeter made an impression that allowed Niemuth and company to offer him the job.

“I interviewed on a Friday, and Brian offered me the job on a Monday night,” Jeter said. “It was awkward because I was in spring practice at Central Missouri, and that day it was just a bad practice. We would usually meet after practice, and I told the defensive staff we aren’t going to meet tonight. They knew what was going on. I went home, and we had a family meeting. Everyone was on board, and I called him on a Thursday at around 8 o’clock before I went into the office and accepted the job.”

With as much transition as there is between jobs in the world of coaching, it’s important that family is excited and ready to move. As the old saying goes, “A happy wife equals a happy life.”

“My wife, Kimberly, was excited,” Jeter said. “It took her some time to warm up to it. The boys (Jordan and Jayden) were worried about their friends, but once we told them about going back home and grandma’s home, they were OK with it.”

Landing the job was the easy part. But a culture and identity needed to be established within the program, players needed to buy into Jeter’s coaching style and a standard of success needed to be implemented. With Jeter, all of that comes down to leadership.

“Leadership to me is influence,” he said. “Every day when I go out to practice, it’s an opportunity to influence coaches and players. I’m a big lead-by-example guy, so as we’re building this thing and turning this corner, we’re really emphasizing changing the culture of Simpson football.”

The key to turning a new page with the program has been to adopt a certain motto – a relentless pursuit of excellence in everything that the players and coaches do. Whether that be on game days, the practice field or something as simple as eating at a team dinner, the players and coaches do so with a purpose. It’s a constant principle that’s applied to the program.

“I’ve always carried that (relentless pursuing excellence) with me everywhere I went,” Jeter said. “That was the expectation we always had as a defense (at Central Missouri), and we’ve carried that over to this team.”

Coming from a Division II school in Central Missouri and a Football Championship Subdivision school (Drake), Simpson might be viewed as a step down for some, but Jeter doesn’t view it that way. No matter where you are, you go about your business with the same intent and drive you would other places.

“Whether I’m the coach at Simpson College or Alabama, I think you operate the same way,” Jeter said. “You paint the expectations as far as academic excellence, competitive excellence and making sure at the end of the day these guys are going to be good husbands and fathers and good men in the community. That’s never going to change for me as far as my mission as a coach.”

Jeter is no stranger to success at Simpson. He was a key part of the two most successful teams in the program’s history (1996-97) as a defensive back and as a captain on the 1997 squad that set the school record for wins and made it to the national semifinals.

“The thing about those teams when I played here was that we were just a hard-nosed, tough team,” Jeter said. “My senior year we made a decision to win a national championship. We came up one game short. That was our goal, our meaning, and we went out and did it. I think the same thing is happening here. These guys have to one, believe they can do it, two, expect to do it, and three, go do it.”

One year ago, Matt Jeter may not have expected to be where he is today, but as opportunities arise, sometimes plans change, and you find yourself in a new, or in Jeter’s case, familiar place.

“This is home for me,” he said. “This place transformed me personally, academically and as a man, in a number of different ways. And the fact that I’m here in Indianola, it has been seamless.”