When you list the men most responsible for the ascension of Oklahoma State football, the usual suspects come to mind.
Boone Pickens. Mike Gundy. Mike Holder.
Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and a host of other big-time players.
We can keep going. Les Miles. Terry Don Phillips, who did more than dream the dream of nicer facilities.
Pat Jones. Barry Sanders. Heck, even Eddie Sutton, whose basketball teams kept OSU athletics financially afloat through dark football days.
But as the third-ranked Cowboys soon head for the desert and a Fiesta Bowl showdown against fourth-ranked Stanford, here's a name that shouldn't be forgotten.
Yep, the only OSU football coach of the last 40 years to leave Stillwater with a losing record.
Simmons, 11 years gone from OSU, didn't bring championships or major bowl trips to the Cowboys in his six seasons as head coach. But he brought something just as valuable.
Simmons upgraded the OSU talent base. Changed the attitude. Won Bedlam three times in his six years, though OSU hadn't beaten OU in 19 years when Simmons arrived. Hired an offensive coordinator, Miles, who still packs a punch on the college football food chain.
“Bob Simmons was a tremendous catalyst in moving that program forward,” said Phillips, OSU's athletic director from 1994-02 and now the AD at Clemson. Gundy “is doing a tremendous job. But it really all started with Bob Simmons.”
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In December 1994, Phillips hired Simmons to replace Pat Jones, who had won big in the 1980s but who from 1989 through '94 had produced seasons of 4-7, 4-7, 0-10-1, 4-6-1, 3-8 and 3-7-1.
Simmons took over a program limited in numbers by the effects of probation and limited in vision by year after year of losing. Lewis Field was a rusting eyesore, a constant reminder that the Cowboys were substandard at dawn of the Big 12 era.
Simmons never met Boone Pickens. Closest he ever got was after the 12-0 Bedlam victory in 1995, when Holder, then the OSU golf coach, asked Simmons to sign a game ball for Pickens.
Holder said he would some day take Simmons out to Pickens' vaunted ranch in Texas. “I never got out there,” Simmons said with a laugh.
Holder eventually persuaded Pickens to make that $165 million donation that set in motion the stadium renovations that changed the landscape for OSU.
Simmons was back in Stillwater for OSU's 2010 game against Troy.
“I kept hearing about this Taj Mahal,” Simmons said. “They were right. I pulled into town, I didn't know where I was. When I went down the main street, I felt this Texas-like stadium, I said ‘wow.' I went around with my mouth open.
“It's one of the top places in the country when you go visit it. It's not even close to what I brought recruits into.”
Still, Simmons recruited quality ballplayers. Among them, Jamal Williams, R.W. McQuarters, Juqua Parker, Tatum Bell, Kevin Williams, Marcellus Rivers, Kenyatta Wright, Tony Lindsay, Alvin Porter, Jack Golden, Dwayne Levels, Jacoby Shepherd, Rashaun Woods, Reggie White, Terrence Robinson and Sam Mayes.
1997 was a breakout year for OSU. The Cowboys went 8-3 in the regular season, with two overtime defeats. OSU came agonizingly close to winning the Big 12's South Division.
That Alamo Bowl season, OSU's first winning season in nine years, wetted the appetite of Cowboy fans.
“One of the challenges we had was getting people to believe that we could compete at that level,” said Phillips. “I used to joke, to be an Oklahoma State fan during that time, you had to have a lot of courage.
“We had a mindset, like when you're getting in the car, we felt like we can't open the door and get in the front seat. We just got in the backseat.”
Phillips began a campaign for OSU fans to wear orange. It took hold.
And now, when he flips on the television in South Carolina, or Simmons in Colorado switches on an OSU game, they see a sea of orange in a Taj Mahal.
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Simmons' success didn't last. The Cowboys went 5-6 in both 1998 and 1999, with close defeats zapping the momentum of '97, and when OSU fell to 3-8 in 2000, Phillips was compelled to make a change.
OSU turned to Miles, whom Simmons had brought in as offensive coordinator in 1995.
Miles' three years on Simmons' staff gave Phillips the chance to observe Miles. Without Simmons, there would have been no Miles at OSU.
Simmons also retained Gundy as a 28-year-old quarterback coach in 1995 and hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator in '97.
Simmons – who went on to coach at Notre Dame, Washington and Portland State and now lives in Greater Denver – expresses nothing but positive feelings about his OSU days.
“Great experience,” Simmons said. “It was a matter of giving the program a message, a direction of where we want to go.”
Where Simmons wanted to go is where OSU now is. Big 12 champion and Fiesta Bowl bound. He's part of the reason.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at