BELLS — Scott Ponder has made the playoffs at three of his previous stops, with the first two having deep postseason runs.

BELLS — Scott Ponder has made the playoffs at three of his previous stops, with the first two having deep postseason runs.


The Panthers are hoping that past can carry over into the future and bring both stability and success to the program after the Bells school board voted, 6-0, to hire him on Monday night.


"I think there’s some talent here. Every coach thinks they have the ability to get things done," Ponder said. "I’m eager to get started. There’s a lot to get done. There’s a long way to go."


Ponder, who has a career mark of 97-61, takes over for Randy Hitsman, who stepped down in November after leading the Panthers to just one win in two seasons.


He was one of four finalists for the position out of between 70-80 applicants that included interested coaches from Florida, California and Connecticut.


"Him combined with what the UIL did for us, we’re excited to get it going," said Bells superintendent Joe Moore, referring to the upcoming realignment. "He’s been there, done that. He’s done what every program in Texas wants to do — win a state championship."


Ponder spend the past four seasons at Iowa Park, a Class 3A school outside of Wichita Falls. He was 14-27 with a playoff appearance in his first year (2010) when the Hawks went 8-3. Iowa Park went 4-6 in 2013 after two straight 1-9 campaigns.


In the past two seasons Ponder’s son, Derrick, has been the quarterback and comes to Bells heading into his junior year in the fall. As a freshman he completed 157-of-237 passes for 1,848 yards and 12 touchdowns with 20 interceptions. This past season he was 142-of-229 for 1,462 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.


"We’ve been looking for something different for our family," Ponder said. "I grew up in a small school. I coached at a small school. There’s something special when things are going right in a small town."


After winning a Class 1A state championship at Petrolia, where he earned 32 victories in three years, in 2002, Ponder went to Wichita Falls Rider and won 57 games over six seasons. The Raiders hadn’t had a winning season since 1995 before his arrival in 2003 and he made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons — including three trips to the region final.


In addition to his four state quarterfinal appearances, he has seven district titles, nine trips to the playoffs and coached 53 all-state players, including three that went on to the NFL.


"Every challenge is a bit different," Ponder said. "I think you’ve got to tailor what you do to your athletes. Offensively, the old Rider teams we’ll look like that. Defensively there’s going to be more of a change to a 3-4 scheme."


When the UIL announced cutoff numbers for February’s realignment, Bells turned in an enrollment of 210 — 10 students below staying put in what will now be known as 3A.


The drop, which is the first time Bells has changed classifications since 1990, brought in more interested applicants.


"We probably got 30 additional applicants in a four-day period," Moore said. "People were sitting back waiting to see what would happen with us."


The Panthers went 1-19 under Hitsman but actually went into the final two weeks of the season controlling their own destiny for the final playoff spot in District 7-2A (II).


Bells went 0-10 in Hitsman’s first season, when he was the Panthers’ fourth coach in four years. This past season Bells’ lone victory came against Trenton and since 1997 the only time Bells has had a winning record was a 6-5 mark in 2010.


"I think this community’s hungry. These kids are excited," Ponder said. "We’re going to do our best to turn things around."