potential county cuts lead simmons departure ar 279624

Oliver Simmons couldn’t get a firm answer on whether he’d still have a teaching job at Springstead High next school year.

With a family to support, Simmons began putting out feelers. When Poinciana wanted him to take over its basketball program, he felt compelled to jump at the opportunity.

“When the whole county said there’d be major cuts, I went to the principal (Susan Duval) and by law she probably could not tell me if I’d be OK or not OK,” Simmons said.

“… I felt like (Poinciana) was a good move for us to make and when I went back to (Duval) she was still not able to tell me.”

So ended Simmons’ one-year run as the Eagles’ head coach, as he moved on to another team – also referred to as the Eagles – in Osceola County that could offer firmer job security.

Simmons just completed his first year teaching physical education and health at Springstead. In the face of potential layoffs within the Hernando County School District, his employment status became tenuous.

The Eagles went 12-13 in 2010-11 under Simmons, improving upon a 6-18 mark the previous season though failing to make the regional playoffs out of the four-team Class 5A, District 7.

“I thought it was a good year,” Simmons said. “I thought we made progress. In terms of building the program, which was my goal, to build a foundation, I thought we were able to do that.

“… Hopefully they’ll find a local, someone that’s been in Hernando for quite some time and is able to give stability to the program.”

Simmons arrived on campus last year sporting a career 93-82 mark across three different head coaching stints in Texas, Minnesota and Olympia High in Orlando.

A former two-time Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, the 6-foot-9 Simmons played collegiately for the University of Kentucky and Florida State.

After a professional career featuring stops in Sweden and Holland, as well the American Basketball Association and International Basketball League, he retired from playing.

He came to Springstead as the third new head coach in as many years, and the seventh since Greg O’Connell ended his 23-year tenure on the bench in 2000.

Despite this upheaval, the Eagles advanced to regionals four times from 2005-10, collecting three district titles and reaching the Class 4A state championship game in 2009.

But in the wake of two consecutive losing seasons, the team finds itself trying to rebuild its recent glory.

“I thought (Simmons) was a good basketball coach,” Springstead Athletic Director Bob Levija said. “If anybody could have turned the program around, he could. I wish he was patient and could have stayed.”

Levija did not know full details of the hiring process for Simmons’ replacement. Duval did not return a call seeking comment.

Years Coach Record
76-77 Dan Janicki 9-17
77-00 Greg O’Connell 366-233
00-03 Scott Bennett 27-47
03-04 Whit Campbell 5-18
04-05 Michael Lannon 10-11
05-07 Craig Swartout 40-16
07-09 Pat Kelly 53-6
09-10 Steve Thompson 6-18
10-11 Oliver Simmons 12-13
TOTALS 528-379

Sports writer Chris Bernhardt Jr. can be reached at 352-544-5288 or cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com.

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