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Sports

Coach At The Center Of The Death Of A Kansas College Football Player Fired From Missouri Southern

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Christina Elias / KCUR 89.3
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Jeff Sims at a news conference before his first season as head coach at Missouri Southern State University.

Jeff Sims was fired at Missouri Southern State University after only two seasons as head coach. Sims was the head coach at Garden City Community College when 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth died of exertional heatstroke after a grueling practice. Missouri Southern refused to say whether Sims was fired for cause.

The football coach at the center of the death of a 19-year-old player at Garden City Community College (GCCC) in 2018 was fired Wednesday from his new job at Missouri Southern State University (MSSU) in Joplin.

"Jeff Sims, head football coach, has been relieved of his duties," Director of Athletics Jared Bruggeman said in a statement.

Sims was 2-9 with the Lions in 2019, and games this year were postponed due to the pandemic. He still had two years left on his contract. But the university refuses to say whether Sims was fired for cause or without cause. If MSSU decided to just release Sims, the school would owe him $90,000, according to the contract he signed in November 2018. But, if he was fired for cause, the university would not owe him.

When KCUR asked if Sims would be paid, MSSU Director of News Services & Messaging, Mike Olmstead, responded with a statement that read, in part, "The details of him being relieved of his duties cannot be discussed as they represent an ongoing personnel situation."

Olmstead did not elaborate on why Sims' firing is an "ongoing personnel situation."

The death of Braeden Bradforth

Braeden Bradforth, the teenager from Neptune, New Jersey, died of exertional heatstroke after a grueling Sims-led workout on a hot August day in Garden City. An investigation paid for by GCCC a year after Bradforth's death blamed "a striking lack of leadership" by top college officials, including Sims.

Earlier this year the family settled with the college for $500,000, the maximum allowed under Kansas law because Sims and other GCCC officials were protected by qualified immunity.

"We may never know whether Braeden’s death played a role in Missouri Southern‘s decision to end their relationship with Sims," said family lawyer Jill Greene. "But one can only hope that it was a factor."

Sims seemed confused by his firing. "I don't think there was a reason," he told the Joplin Globe. "I had a contract, and they exercised their options in the contract. We shook hands and went opposite directions."

Controversy has followed Sims in his career. A year after Bradforth's death he told KCUR that “It’s unfortunate what happened, but God has a plan."

Also, Sims' feud with another junior college football coach played out in public during the Netflix series Last Chance U.

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