Tricia Simpson doesn’t even try to follow the conversations.
Whenever husband Jess and their sons break down the Xs and Os concerning whomever Buford football is playing that week, Tricia lets the discussion flow. It’s not uncommon for the father and his sons to briefly revert to their respective football personas of a coach and his players, even at the dinner table.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings,” she said with a laugh Wednesday. “It’s fine if they want to talk about it. It’s a very natural conversation for them.”
But those strategic discussions — the ones pertaining to Buford’s next opponent, at least — are about to come to an end.
The No. 2 Wolves face No. 5 Rome in the Class AAAAA state championship at 4:30 p.m. Friday, marking the last high school game for senior tight end Jake Simpson. He’s the youngest of Jess and Tricia’s sons to suit up at Buford, and Friday will more than likely be the final time father and son take the field together.
“(Coaching Jake) has been so much fun, but I’ve also kind of been a bit leery knowing this was the last ‘this’ and the last ‘that,’” Jess said from his office Wednesday. “I’m trying not to focus on that, but the reality is going to set in here in a week. I’m probably not going to have a chance to ever coach one of my boys again.”
Jake and older brothers Luke and Cooper have been embedded in the football program since Jess took over in 2005, starting as water boys and ball boys. All three played at least one year of football for their father.
Luke, who Tricia said was more interested in golf and baseball, didn’t play football past ninth grade. But he had a place near Jess on the sideline photographing and filming the games as a member of the yearbook staff.
Cooper, however, was intent on playing football. A Georgia Sports Writers Association first team All-State offensive lineman in 2015, the middle Simpson son now plays at Army.
That just leaves Jake, the last of Jess’ boys to roam Buford’s sideline.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that (Friday) is the last game,” Jake said. “We’ve had some real good times and some rough times. It’s always good to be able to go into his room or at dinner ask him a question and have the answer right then.”
Discussing alignments and assignments is as far as football talk goes at home, Tricia said. Any disagreements about things that transpired on the practice field are left there.
Separating fatherhood from coaching is a balancing act Jess has spent years performing. He credits his assistant coaches for helping him handle his sons on the field and Tricia for keeping him “in check” when football is brought up at home.
“As a coach, all my boys knew that I would get in their grill like I’d get in anybody else’s grill. But I tried not to be over-the-top because they were my sons,” Jess said. “I tried to make sure I wasn’t holding them to a higher standard than everybody else, but they probably felt that way. I tried to be fair with it. I tried to leave football in school and not take it home.”
Though both Jake and Tricia said Jess has managed that challenge well, it will no longer be a problem after Buford and Rome settle things in the Georgia Dome on Friday. That game will end the Simpson boys’ involvement in Buford football, which began when Luke was born the day before Jess’ first game as an assistant for the Wolves in 1995.
“Buford football has been a part of us being a family since we became more than just a couple,” Tricia said. “It’s going to be weird without the boys there.”
But that’s a fast-approaching reality for the Simpsons, one Tricia said she and her husband have acknowledged but haven’t discussed at length.
“I think we both aren’t really capable of talking about it,” Tricia said. “I could cry. I could cry right now talking about it. I think senior night was pretty emotional for both of us, just standing on the field with Jake and knowing that it would never be the same.”
Jess has no more sons to coach, but his ninth-grade daughter Emma plans to accompany him on the sideline as soon as she can. Tricia said their youngest child wants to join the yearbook staff, which will allow her to take photographs of the games.
But Jess knows things won’t quite be the same without one of his sons on the sideline. The coach who has guided the Wolves to 10 straight state championship games values that part of his career perhaps more than any other.
“I think about all the dads that love to coach their kids, and you coach them in youth league or whatever,” Jess said. “I’ve gotten to coach mine in high school, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“I might regret a lot of things when I get done, but I won’t regret coaching my kids.”