One of the best tandems in Northwestern State basketball history is together again.
Demons’ head coach Mike McConathy announced Monday the return of Dave Simmons to the NSU basketball staff after 12 seasons as head coach at Southland Conference rival McNeese.
Simmons, 58, was the lead assistant during McConathy’s first seven seasons at Northwestern (1999-2006), when the Demons made their first two NCAA Tournament appearances (2001, 2006), winning a game both times in March Madness. He was hired as head coach at McNeese in September 2006 and was in charge of the Cowboys program for the last 12 seasons.
Simmons, a DeRidder native and former standout from 1977-81 at Louisiana Tech, carries the title of assistant to the head coach on the NSU staff. He began work Monday, filling a year-old vacancy created when former player Luke Rogers departed from the staff.
“He’ll advise me and he knows exactly what is required to run a program like ours,” said McConathy. “I’m extremely excited because Dave has such knowledge, and is such a hard worker. He understands players because he was a great player. The fact we’ve worked together previously helps. During the 12 years he wasn’t with us, we remained very, very close friends, and so there’s no adjustment for him or for me, which is great for our program.
“He’s a great coach and a great man. Everybody loves Dave. He is going to be such a positive influence on our players, and he’s already beloved in our community after the seven years he and (wife) Elaine and their family spent with us.”
McConathy and Simmons guided the Demons to their most dynamic stretch. After NSU had just five winning records in its first 24 years of NCAA Division I competition, after McConathy took over and hired Simmons, there were four more winning seasons in the next seven years, including 47 victories in their last two while shattering attendance records at Prather Coliseum.
The Demons beat Winthrop in the 2001 NCAA Tournament after capturing the Southland Conference Tournament championship. In 2005-06, NSU set a school record with 26 wins, claiming the Southland regular-season and tournament crowns before knocking off No. 15 Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“This is a great opportunity to come back and work with a guy like Mike McConathy, always first class, in it for the right reasons. I’m very fortunate to get another opportunity to work with young men,” said Simmons.
Simmons has a combined 31 years in the Southland as a player and coach, including the last 12 as head coach at McNeese. He guided the Cowboys to the 2010-11 Southland regular-season championship, two Southland championship games and is the only McNeese coach to lead his teams to back-to-back national postseason tournaments: the 2011 NIT and 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Simmons won the 2011 and 2012 Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches “Tommy Joe Eagles Coach of the Year” awards, and was the 2010-11 Southland Coach of the Year.
He is the third-winningest coach in McNeese history. Only Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame member Ralph Ward, who coached 19 seasons, spent more time in charge of the Cowboys basketball program than Simmons, who dramatically improved the program’s Academic Progress Rate scores during his tenure.
“The last 12 years of being a head coach will help me benefit Mike and this program. There are some things I can handle and some things I can help with that will free him to do work in other aspects,” he said.
As an assistant coach, Simmons has helped three different Southland Conference schools – McNeese, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern – to five NCAA Tournament appearances.
Simmons’ 89 percent free throw aim at Louisiana Tech in his senior year (1980-81) is best in school history by a player with over 75 makes. His career 81.8 percent rate at the line ranks fourth. Simmons is featured on a banner in the concourse of the Bulldogs’ Thomas Assembly Center and is a member of the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame, enshrined in 2007 for his playing days as an All-Southland and All-NABC District 23 performer.