BOULDER -- It's fourth down and nine -- as in four wins or fewer over each of the last nine seasons. But Boulder High's football program just connected on what might be a game-changing Hail Mary.

BHS hired former Oklahoma State head coach and former Colorado Buffaloes assistant Bob Simmons on Monday to lead a once-proud football program that has struggled over the last decade. He met with BHS players on Monday afternoon and will be introduced to the community at a rally Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Panthers' gymnasium.

Simmons, 64, beat out an impressive list of candidates that sources said also included finalists Bryant Shaw, a former BHS assistant and former NFL player, and former CU Buff Ron Woolfork, who has been head coach at Denver East and Overland.

"What I wanted to do was get back in the classroom," Simmons said. "I love teaching. I've got a passion for teaching. The (Boulder Valley School District) is a great education system. ... When this opportunity came, I wanted to sit down and see what the vision of Boulder was going to be."

Plenty of football fans in Boulder will remember Simmons' name.

He spent seven years on Bill McCartney's staff at CU from 1988-94, a wildly successful stretch that included the 1990 national championship.

He took over an Oklahoma State squad in 1995 that had endured six losing seasons in a row and hadn't yet been lavishly bankrolled by booster T. Boone Pickens. By 1997, the Cowboys were 8-3 and Alamo-Bowl bound. Simmons' stint in Stillwater fizzled three years later, but the run helped set the stage for two of his assistants -- Les Miles and Mike Gundy -- to succeed him in the role and turn OSU into a powerhouse.

"What impressed me is just his football background and the places he's coached, and bringing that wealth of knowledge of knowing the next level," said BHS athletic director Melissa Warfield, who ultimately made the decision along with principal Kevin Braney after a search committee narrowed down the list of candidates.

Since leaving Oklahoma State, Simmons, who now lives in Colorado, has had stints as an assistant at Notre Dame, Washington and Portland State. Before CU, he spent time as an assistant at Bowling Green, Toledo and West Virginia. He also played at Bowling Green.

"It was really important to me to get this one right," Braney said. "We're thrilled we can find someone like  Coach Simmons to join us."

Simmons, who anticipates teaching at BHS as well, inherits a Panthers squad that most recently went 3-7. After a 2-0 start in 2012, a rash of injuries sent the Panthers into a seven-game tailspin that didn't end until a win in the season finale.

Panthers faithful will no doubt hope the new coach can parlay his vast experiences into a turnaround for BHS on the gridiron.

Boulder's last winning season came in 2003, a 7-4 campaign that included a thrilling four-overtime victory over cross-town rival Fairview. But the Panthers fell on hard times the next two seasons before then-coach Bob Carskie was promoted to BHS athletic director.

Both Spencer Colter and Jeff Santee gave it a go since then. But Colter, now the new coach at Denver East, was fired for off-the-field issues after two losing seasons at BHS. And Santee, despite making progress with participation numbers that had sunk to Class 2A levels prior to his arrival, resigned recently after five seasons during which the Panthers won three or four games each year.

"I think it's exciting and I couldn't be happier with the person our team and Miss Warfield chose," said Chris Wright, a BHS receiver who will be a senior in the fall. "I think with the good news of this caliber of coach, it should bring more people out (for the team)."

Simmons, whose last coaching stop was at Portland State a couple of years ago, has lived in Thornton since about 2008 to be nearer to his children and grandchildren. He has grandsons who play football at Boulder's North Metro League rival Legacy, and is familiar with the program's history, as well as its recent past.

Wanting to get back into the game, he said he explored other high school jobs in the state as well as college openings.

"High schools are the foundation of colleges," Simmons said. "I've had the opportunity to coach in college and now a great opportunity to coach in high school and bring those experiences I've had in college to a program like Boulder and have the opportunity to turn the program around.

"The big thing is the opportunity to be a part of bringing back the winning ways here in a school that's got a great tradition."

Elton Davis, a former star BHS star on Boulder's 1992 state title team and a longtime assistant coach for the Panthers, grew up with Simmons' sons, one of whom played at Boulder and one who played at Fairview. Davis also played defensive back at CU while Simmons was there.

Davis said a hire of Simmons' stature could be a galvanizing force for the BHS community.

"Instantly, we'll have alumni who are going to be excited as well," said Davis, who noted that expectations will be instantly raised. "I think he's able to (deliver on those expectations.)"

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