PULLMAN — Steve Sarkisian and Dennis Simmons will be on opposite sidelines during Friday’s Apple Cup. Though they coach rival schools, it will be the only time this year they aren’t rooting each other on, ignoring the interstate competition in favor of an old friend.
“I’ll cheer for him when we’re not playing against him,” Simmons says of Washington’s head coach. “And I’m sure he does the same for me when we’re not playing each other.”
Their friendship stems from their time together as teammates at BYU. Simmons — now the outside receivers coach at Washington State — was a three-year starter at outside linebacker for the Cougars from Provo, while Sarkisian was the quarterback.
“He was really a good player. He was unique as far as BYU quarterbacks,” said WSU coach Mike Leach, who is also a graduate of BYU. “I don’t have him as fast but he had good feet Sarkisian threw it pretty well on the move and I honestly always thought he was one of the most underrated guys that played at BYU.”
Sarkisian and Simmons both started on the 1996 BYU team that began the season unranked but finished 14-1 and ranked No. 5 in the country. In fact, the team’s only loss that season was in Husky Stadium, where the two coaches will face off on Friday.
Even though Sarkisian and Simmons played on opposite sides of the ball they had one common trait that brought them together: At a school where 98 percent of the enrolled students are members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), neither was a practitioner.
“There are not too many non-LDS players on that roster,” Sarkisian acknowledged. “So the ones who aren’t, you probably hang a little closer to when you get your chances.”
While shared cultural isolation may have given the two something in common, Simmons was quick to say that teammate camaraderie trumped any external boundaries that may have arisen.
“I mean, our team was a pretty tight-knit unit, especially that last year,” Simmons said. “We always hung out together. LDS guys and non-LDS guys. The religious factor really didn’t factor into it. He was a teammate and I was a teammate so we all just kind of hung together.”
Sarkisian completed 69 percent of his passes that year to go along with 33 touchdowns and Second Team All-America honors. In so doing, he established himself as a member of BYU’s pantheon of successful quarterbacks.
Leach said that Sarkisian made his mark at a school that churned out quarterbacks such as Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Robbie Bosco.
“He’s in the middle of all those guys but distinguished himself I thought really good, and just really had a knack for making the right play at the right time,” Leach said.
While the two are no longer close and though their paths only intersect when they are competing either on the field or for recruiting, the two keep tabs on each other’s careers. When Simmons joined Leach’s staff in 2012 the former teammates became rivals, albeit ones of the friendly variety.
“I’m proud of him. I’m proud to have played with him and I cheer for him every time they play except when they’re playing against us,” Simmons said.