Since 2003, Cranston East football and Ken Simone have been synonymous with each other. Tom Centore was named head coach at East in the spring of 2003 and Simone came with him as the defensive coordinator.
While he himself is a quiet and unassuming man, and spends his days in room 217 as the reading specialist for East, currently in his nineteenth year in Cranston schools, he is unabashedly gratified and loquacious about the success he has achieved on the field in his 14 years of coaching.
“I'm proud that after our first year (2-9 in 2003), we achieved the following on-field: in Division II, we made the playoffs six straight years (2004-2009), 2005 Division II Co-Champions, 2005 Division II Super Bowl Champions, 2007 Division II-B Co-Champions. We moved up to Division I in 2010, largely because of our on-field success in those years. In Division I, we made the playoffs five out of the last six years (2012-2014, 2016-2017), in 2013 we were the State Runner-Up, and most recently 2017 Division I Super Bowl Champions,” he said in an email.
Simone had no intention of retiring, but physically his body has told him it’s time to go. He needs several surgeries to help alleviate the chronic pain in his neck and back.
“I knew I was done after the game we played against LaSalle,” he said. “The game lasted almost four hours, a national record for no overtime. It was so intense; a mental, emotional and physical battle, I couldn’t move the next day. I realized that it was telling me something, even though we lost, it was telling me something, and that was when I knew.
Simone struggled for a long time with his identity off the playing field.
“I’ve been ‘Coach’ for so long, not just to my players, but all the students in the hallways, call me that,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with ‘If I’m not coach, who am I?’ I finally realized, it’s still who I am, I am a coach, it will never leave me and that’s not going to change.”
When he looks in the gym and sees the banners, there is a kinship he feels that they have worked for and practiced, they deserve to celebrate their accomplishments.
“There is a special closeness with the players, a connection that you simply cannot get in a classroom,” he said. “I believe I was able to teach the players the importance of preparation and paying attention to details no matter what they're doing. The explanation of what I was thinking and telling them why we were doing something was also a priority. I wanted them to not just understand what they were supposed to do, but why I needed them to do that as it fit into the bigger picture of the strategy. I also would like to think that through my constant talking with them about thoughts, feelings, and seeing the big picture[not just of football, but in life], that I taught them that it's okay to say "I love you". We say it all the time to each other now, and we mean it.”
Isaiah McDaniel, a former player for Simone and now a fellow coach, was saddened by Simone’s retirement.
“First, let me say that things are going to be different without him on the field with us everyday,” he said. “We have been together since 2003 when I was a senior and then went right into coaching.”
McDaniel has fond memories of his friend both on and off the field from their years together.
“We have become good friends, and shared special memories,” he said. “My Mom was the only one who could get his oldest son [Andrew] to stop crying at football games when he was a baby. Ken was at the highlights of my life; my wedding and my children.”
Simone is trying to look at his retirement as a positive move, and reflecting on how he has grown and changed as a person, a coach and a friend. With all this pondering, he has a few regrets to go along with his victories.
“The one that comes out first always is coming close but never beating Hendricken, on the field,” he said. “I saw myself doing this until my grandkids knew me as ‘coach,’ and knowing that unless the surgeons can make miracles happen, that is not in the cards.”
Simone also realizes that the “education” piece goes both ways and understands that these young men could not teach him something after all these years.
“Working with kids over the years really taught me how to communicate more effectively,” he said. “I listen better because of them. And when I speak with them, I really focus on how to talk in a way that will be most effective to make my point and still make them feel valued. That carries over into my classroom and when I interact with my own boys. They've also taught me that they don't want some pre-conceived, pre-packaged caricature of a football coach. They want you to be you, because they're sure going to be them. It's one of the things I've loved most about being at East.”
Simone’s legacy will live on with his students and players, as proven by these comments from former players.
“Coach Simone was a man who taught character and discipline,” said Jimmy Saab, class of 2014. “He always pushed us beyond our limits and taught us how to be a family on and off the field.
To coach Simone I'm blessed to say that you survived the ride with us knuckleheads.”
“Coach Simone was a coach that took pride in what he did for his football team,” Chris Correia Jr., former All-State defensive end said. “He was always trying to make us better as he loved not only his job, but his players too.”