For much of the past seven years, Harold Simmons has been within earshot of every morsel of advice passed along by legendary coach Bob Bledsoe, whether at practice or inside various Erie dugouts.

One of those lessons has always been to accept the challenge of high expectations. Simmons is doing just that, as Erie athletic director Richie Wildenhaus announced on Monday that the veteran baseball coach will add to his duties by replacing Bledose as the Tigers' softball coach.

"The biggest thing for me with this is that I'm on the same page as Bob as far as maintaining the history and family atmosphere of the program," Simmons said. "That was very important for him, and it's important for me too. He has been a great mentor for me as a head coach in general. There will be a few changes, but they've had tons of success and the girls know what to expect."

Simmons has spent the past seven seasons as Erie's baseball coach, with Bledsoe serving as an assistant on his staff. During that time Simmons reversed that role with Bledose's softball program, sitting alongside the 11-time state champion coach as he closed out his 20-season tenure as the Tigers' leader.

Simmons led the Erie baseball team to its first district title at the Class 4A level this spring, earning the BoCoPreps.com Coach of the Year honor along the way.

Despite that familiarity with all things Erie, the decision hardly was a slam dunk for Wildenhaus. After interviewing five candidates, however, Wildenhaus was comfortable with handing the keys to Erie's perennial power softball team to Simmons.

The Tigers rallied from a 3-7 start last year to reach the 4A semifinals, falling one win short of meeting Tri-Valley League rival Frederick in the title game.

"We had some very qualified coaching candidates," Wildenhaus said. "It was a tough decision for sure. But Harold is a known commodity in our community, not just with baseball but with the softball program too. With his familiarity with the program we wanted to give him the opportunity to take over. Harold comes in with his own ideas on how to run a program, which is exciting."

Last month, Bledsoe resigned after winning 11 state championships in 20 seasons, a run that included 10 titles in 11 seasons between 2000 and 2010. While Bledsoe will be staring a new venture as an assistant at Colorado Mesa, he undoubtedly will continue imparting advice upon his protege.

"In the interview they asked me what the biggest challenge is, and for me I think it's meeting the expectations," said Simmons, a teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School. "This program has been part of building the sport of softball in the state. The last few years as an assistant I've been there step-for-step with Bob as far as time on the field. We're looking forward to the challenge."

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