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Posted on Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 5:13 a.m.

Former Michigan track coach Red Simmons dies at age 102

By Staff

Kenneth "Red" Simmons, the first women's track and field coach at the University of Michigan, died Friday. He was 102.

After a 25-year career with the Detroit Police Department, Simmons started the Michigammes women's running club in Ann Arbor in 1960 and was hired as the university's first women's track coach in 1976.


Former Michigan track coach Red Simmons, then 99, acknowledges the Michigan Stadium crowd after being recognized for his career during a game against his alma mater, Eastern Michigan, in 2009. file photo

In 1990, Simmons became Michigan's first honorary 'M' man. A 1933 graduate and track standout at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan), Simmons is also a member of the EMU Hall of Fame.

He frequented athletic events on both campuses.

"Red Simmons was a fixture at many sporting events and was always supportive of the department and our coaches," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said in a statement. "He lived a long, productive life and made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of others. Red will be missed by our athletic department, but his legacy will endure as an accomplished coach, a wonderful person and a great Michigan Man."

After retiring from the Detroit Police Department in 1959, Simmons was hired by then-athletic director Fritz Crisler to teach Michigan athletes his training methods, according to the school. While teaching physical education classes, he also completed his master's degree in the subject at the school.

Simmons and his first wife, Betty, founded the Michigammes to give women an opportunity to compete in track and field. The first member, Francie Kraker Goodridge, competed in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and the 1972 Games in Munich.

The Michigan women's track team gained varsity status in 1978, two years after his hiring. He retired from the program in 1981 at the age of 71.

"As I approach the middle of my 28th year as a head coach and prepare to have my 25th wedding anniversary celebration in a week, this has hit me like a ton of bricks," current Michigan women's track coach James Henry said in a statement.

"The person who has made me who I am today has just passed on. I feel heartbroken. I feel a little dazed and confused because I would not be the person I am today if it wasn't for Red putting me in the position to have the type of life I'm leading now. I'm doing what I love to do and that's coach and help kids and Red is responsible for that.

"He built a legacy of integrity, hard work and honesty. He has made my job easy because I live by his example as an individual and as a coach."

Simmons won two track state titles for Redford High School in 1928, was on the mile relay team at Michigan State Normal College that won a national title in 1932 and participated in the 1932 Olympic trials. He won medals at the Senior Olympics into his 90s.

In a blog post on, Brandon wrote that Simmons "was still driving his Chevrolet to the athletic campus early this year and working out or walking the steps at Crisler Center."


greg upshur

Fri, Apr 20, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

Ya, I remember him at the indoor track. He just had that personality.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

An inspiring man who will be missed! I always looked forward to seeing him at Kinesiology Homecoming.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 8:13 p.m.

This past indoor track season was the first time I did not see Red Simmons in the 12 years since I came back to town. Red was dearly loved by all of his former runners. The University did hold a special 100th birthday celebration and reunion for him and his former runners. It was well attended and the love and emotion was pouring out. I was fortunate to have known him.

just a voice

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

One of the best this this should be front page, not some inconsequential football practice

just a voice

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 9:45 p.m.

Made front page of sports section at least, so good job to, sadly I can actually understand their decision to keep football on top. The sad part is how few know what this man means to Women's Track in the state of Michigan, let alone everything else that man had accomplished.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 8:14 p.m.

Agreed, 100%.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

A wonderful man who I first met when he was in charge of the weight room at Waterman Gym in 1959.

Amy Kilgore

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

I'm so sorry for your loss Mrs. Simmons. I loved lifting weights alongside Coach Simmons in the 90's and know he was a special friend to my Grandparents. The University has lost the most true "Michigan Man" in the history of the U! His legend and kind spirit will live on forever. Women's athletics is forever in debt to his work on our behalf!


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.

A fine man who lived his life well and set an example for all of us.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

We'll miss you, Red. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Lois. Rest in peace.