By Doug Gorman
When the school year concludes next month, it will be the end of an era for Richard Simmons.
The Lovejoy Middle School head football coach and athletic director is retiring after 38 years in the education and coaching business, including 27 of those years as teacher and coach in the Clayton County School System.
Sunday afternoon, friends, family and fellow coaches gathered at Lovejoy Middle School to honor the man who enjoyed success on and off the field during his lengthy career.
"He will be hard to replace," said Lovejoy Middle School Principal Lee Casey. "He has influenced thousands of young lives over the years."
Coaching has been in Simmons blood since he was 14 and agreed to coach a Little League baseball team.
Simmons began his education career as a basketball coach at Pineville High School in Pineville, W.Va. The Concord College graduate enjoyed success at Pineville, staying seven years and leading the team to the state tournament.
From there, Simmons moved to Florida where he coached at West Nassau High School from 1973-76, leading the team to a trip to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8.
In 1977, Simmons found a home in the Clayton County School System after accepting the job as head basketball coach at Morrow High School.
The Mustangs became a perennial winner as he led the squad to the state tournament five times. In three of those years, the Mustangs made it to the Elite 8. Simmons stepped down as the Morrow coach after winning 171 games.
Former Morrow football coach and athletic director Bud Theodocian wasn't surprised Simmons had so much success.
"He is one of the most focused coaches I have ever seen," said Theodocian. "He loved basketball and he loved his players."
In 1989, Simmons made the most drastic decision of his career when he gave up his duties as a coach at the high school level to help start the athletic program Lovejoy Middle School.
The move gave the veteran coach more time to watch his son play basketball.
Although Simmons hadn't coached football, he agreed to take over the fledging Lovejoy Middle School program. Success found its way to Simmons' football program too.
In 1999 Lovejoy Middle School won the county title. Last fall, Lovejoy won the championship again, giving Simmons a victory in his final game.
"He wanted to learn as much as he could about football, and he became a very good football coach," said Mike Creasman, who has just been named head football coach at Dutchtown, the new school in Henry County.
Several of Simmons football players went on to standout careers at the high school level, helping turn Lovejoy into a state powerhouse.
"He touched so many people," said former Lovejoy football coach C.W. Campbell, who served as the master of ceremony for Sunday's celebration. "He's a man of character and integrity."
Michael Wilder is an example of one of the many young men who have been influenced by Simmons. The former Morrow basketball player is now in the coaching business.
"He set and example for me, said Wilder. "He is the reason I went into coaching."
Simmons told the group that even though he is retiring, he looks forward to continuing his friendships with those he has worked with during the many years on the sideline and bench.
"I have enjoyed my time in this business," he said. "Believe me, I'll miss you more than you'll miss me."