I remember 30 years ago walking onto Clovis High's campus, entering the boys' locker room, walking into a narrow office shared by several teacher/coaches and approaching Tim Simons as he was blueprinting a wishbone offense that would win a Central Section championship three months later.
And I could only shake my head in admiration a few days ago walking onto the collegelike Clovis North campus, entering hallways so wide they could accommodate the Kentucky Derby, being escorted into Simons' private office and first seeing the top of his soiled, black and North Carolina blue hat, his face buried into the X's and O's of the Broncos' pro-set offense.
Option gone. Simons back. And here we go, a legend revisited.
"The timing was right," says Simons, who will coach the school's first varsity game tonight at Central. "I'm really excited about being here."
He just couldn't let the game go, and he could have.
Timothy Justin Simons is 67 years old.
He closed a 24-year career at Clovis in 1999 with "the ultimate season" -- 12-1 and his fifth section title.
That punctuated a 218-61-6 Cougars run without a losing season that landed him in the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame along side his late father, Justin.
Then he assisted Pat Hill at Fresno State for seven years, recruiting the Valley and discovering the likes of now-New England Patriots All-Pro offensive lineman Logan Mankins out of the hills of Catheys Valley.
He had planned on remaining with the Bulldogs for a few more years before Carlo Prandini -- a former teacher/coach colleague at Clovis and once outstanding Fresno State sprinter -- made a dash for the ages early in 2007.
"I had known Tim for 30 years," says Prandini, Clovis Unified School District's associate superintendent for the Clovis North area. "Starting a new school and the culture of a campus is so important, and Tim's core values aligned perfectly with what we wanted to establish."
There was a hook.
At Clovis, in 1976, Simons inherited a program launched in 1922 and was only two years removed from a section title under Jim Fugman.
At Clovis North, in 2007, Simons would begin grooming freshmen on a sprawling educational center that had replaced acres of almond trees at International and Willow avenues.
"The uniqueness of the situation is what attacked me," Simons says. "To build a program from the ground floor. That was the essential part of it."
When Clovis High plunged to a historic-low 2-19 record the past two years, I felt a rallying cry within the Cougars' attendance area for Simons.
Reunite Simons with the boys -- John Sexton, Larry Kellom, Bill Biggs, Jack Erdman and Mike Freeman. Heck, even haul Cliff Wetzel out of his cabin at Lake Tahoe.
What a staff, maybe the section's best ever. And one that forever will bleed Cougar blue.
But Simons culls one from the late novelist Thomas Wolfe: "You can't go home again."
It wouldn't have been the right fit, Simons says.
Well, look who's fitting now in a program that went 9-0 as freshmen in 2007 (one game not completed because of darkness) and 10-0 with its junior varsity last year.
Kellom is Simons' defensive coordinator, and Freeman is co-coach of the Broncos' freshmen.
Kellom, 57, sees not a spark less from the Simons coil that delivered 11 league titles and cutting-edge offenses, ranging from the Nate Hill-led wishbone of 1979 to the gunslinging Chris Patrick 20 years later: "His intensity level is like it always was."
When that slips, Simons says, he'll check out. But until then?
"I have no timeline."