After spending every fall since he was 12 years old on a football field, the last 45 as a coach, Abilene High School head football coach Steve Simpson decided it was time to step away from that part of his life.
“It’s time,” Simpson said Wednesday afternoon in his office at the high school. “It’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make but it is what’s best for me and my family. You do something this long and it is such a part of you. I don’t know a fall where I haven’t been around football since I was 12 years old. It’s going to be a really big change.”
The Abilene Board of Education USD 435 accepted Simpson resignation as head football coach during a special meeting Wednesday morning.
Simpson has a handful of grandkids that he rarely gets to see any of their school activities particularly during the football season, including two that play the sport. He and his wife Cheri, lead teacher at Rural Center Elementary School, have two grandsons that are currently playing in the Pratt school system.
Coach Simpson came to Abilene in 2014 and during his first three years the Cowboys were North Central Kansas League champions after replacing long time coach Jeff Geist. In fact the Cowboys were undefeated NCKL champions in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The 2017 season the Cowboys dipped to a 2-7 mark but bounce back in 2018 to go 4-5. This past season was a tough and frustrating season for Simpson and his coaching staff as the Cowboys were winless in nine games.
Simpson has been a veteran high school and Kansas junior college head football coach for the last 45 plus years. He began in small schools like Bailyville B&B when they played 11-man football as well as stops at Perry Lecompton, Stafford and Sublette. At Sublette he guided the Larks to the state playoffs six times in 10 years.
Coach Simpson also had two stops at Dodge City Community College, the second time as head coach.
Simpson was flooded with memories Wednesday as he recalled the many kids that he has had the opportunity to coach high school football along the way. He fondly remembered special times and special athletes at each stop during his coaching journey.
“I inherited a great group of kids that wanted to work and we worked to be better I think,” Simpson said of his first class of Cowboys. “We had a lot of great kids on the early teams, some of which weren’t starters but they got to play a lot because they were pretty good. We had a lot of talented depth the first couple of years.”
Simpson recalled players like Tanner Hoekman and Harley Hazlett from the first year and the production they have given Fort Hays State the last several years. He also mentioned the large group of kids that made up the third year that went 7-4 with Parker Base, Parker O’Neil, Ryan Wilson, Sam Burt and Jacob Schartz just to name a few.
The coach also talked about the contribution of people like Trey Bender and the success that he had on the football field and running track as the memories came rushing to him. He talked of players such as Dalton Goodwin playing at Bethany and others too many to mention because he was afraid of leaving someone out.
Simpson also recalled a particular player by the name of Steve Tasker that he had the opportunity to coach at Dodge City College. Tasker went on to play 12 years in the NFL mostly with the Buffalo Bills where he was a seven time pro-bowler at wide receiver.
“I hope I have had a good effect on the kids,” Simpson said. “I know I am a better man for coaching them, I hope they are better men because of what we did together. It’s a really, really tough decision. This is a great job. We plan on staying here forever as we both love the community.”
Simpson recognizes the potential of the kids that will be returning for the Cowboys next year. The 2019 Cowboys were not a fast or strong football team according to the coach but they tried hard and they practiced hard and prepared hard.
“There are seven or eight kids that had to play a lot of football this year that will be back next year,” Simpson said. “Kids like Robbie Keener, Karsen Loader and Kaleb Becker and whole bunch of those kids and several of our freshmen will be back and available for the next coach.
“I am proud of my coaches and the players on the team as we went to work every week,” Simpson said. “I am one of those that believes I can still beat somebody, whether anybody else believes that or not.
“We’ve done a lot of good things here fundamentally,” he said. “We’ve played a sound defense. Some years we have had a lot of offense and we have always played well on special teams. So there are a lot of things in football that I am very pleased with and I am very pleased with the character of the kids that I got to coach and the character of the coaches that I got to work with.
“Football has been very good to me,” Simpson concluded. “I hope I have represented it well. I have had a lot of kids that I cherish the time that I had with them.”
Simpson will remain as PE teacher and head track coach at AHS unless his position is needed to employee the next head football coach.
“I know it’s the nature of the business,” he said. “But I want to stay here and teach and be with the track program for a few more years.”