At last week's South Central School District Board meeting, along-time assistant coach and athletic director at South Central High School, Rick Simmons, was named head coach of the high school boys basketball team.
Simmons being named the new head coach came as very little of a surprise to most in the area. The only shocking thing for most is that Simmons was not named the coach last season following the retirement of Gary Shirley.
"The thing I’ve said all along is that I really wanted to have consistency," Simmons said. "My hope was that we would hire a young coach that would be here for a long period of time, and it just didn’t work out."
South Central hired Matt Sturgeon at the start of last season. Earlier this summer, Sturgeon left South Central to take an administrative job at a Salem Junior High.
"It wasn’t anything Coach Sturgeon did; it was just one of those things. He had the opportunity to move up, and I can’t fault him on that," Simmons said.
Some credit Simmons with building up South Central's athletic program, always looking years down the road and doing what's best for the students, school and athletics.
He's only been the Cougars basketball coach for about a week, but it didn't take long for the news to spread and for people to start getting excited about basketball season.
"I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and be supportive, and I hope that continues. I tell them to wait until February to congratulate me," Simmons said.
He knows better than anyone how much success is demanded of the sports programs at South Central. He is one who has helped build that demand for success, and it doesn't change now that he is leading one of the programs.
In the past, Simmons has coached the junior varsity squads and assisted in the varsity games.
"Instead of coaching the first game (junior varsity), I’ll be coaching more the second game," he said. "I’ve done it before; it’s not a situation that bothers me. The biggest difference is, I get to make more decisions."
He doesn't plan on shaking the program up too much, but said he will be putting his stamp on it in his attempt to get the program back to the top after a down year.
"I’ll take what I learned from Coach Shirley and add a little bit of my own." Simmons said. "To get the program back to where we want it. We had a down year, but one year doesn’t mean a whole lot."
Simmons is optimistic about his new role and has already pulled some of his old notes and files to see what they've done in the past. He has even pulled some film and sat down to watch a bit.
Following July's school board meeting when Sturgeon's resignation was announced, the board approached Simmons about taking over the job. He was hesitant at first, knowing that he probably had only six more years until retirement. He wanted the new coach to be at South Central for more than six years, more like 20 years. He waited on giving an answer, hoping someone new, young and fresh would step up.
Even while waiting and hoping, Simmons knew in the back of his mind that it would probably be him standing up at the next board meeting accepting the head coaching position.
"It’s a great job; I can’t imagine anyone not wanting it. That’s probably why a lot of people are wondering why I waited till now," Simmons said.
"I told the school board last week, I could care less whether my name ever makes the paper or if my picture is ever in the paper. It’s all about what the players achieve and the success they have, what they carry on later in life. I want to build on what we have had and re-establish the pride in the program and just do those things that make us successful – hard work, desire, determination and show a lot of heart on the court. And when we leave, I want people to respect us, win or lose," Simmons said.
Simmons has said one thing will change. In past years, Simmons has declined to stand with the team during preseason pictures, he says he will only stand in pictures following championship (for baseball or basketball). His attitude serves as another driving force to win for the Cougars, as just about every spring and summer he has his picture taken with a championship team. But now, as the head basketball coach, he thinks he'll step into the photo before the season.
"Yeah, I suppose I will. It’s only fair that at some point they know what I look like. To me, it’s still all about the kids," Simmons said.
With basketball season still a couple of months off, Simmons is focused on his athletic director and baseball duties, but building the basketball program back up is his next challenge.
"I don’t know that I have the miracles that Coach Shirley had. I don’t have many tricks up my sleeves. I did say some of his mojo would maybe rub off on me, but I don’t know. We’ll just have to see what happens," Simmons said.