After building the Canyon del Oro High School football program into a state power over the past nine seasons, coach Pat Nugent is leaving it all behind.
What could possibly lure Nugent from such a great situation?
How about taking over a Pima Community College program that has gone 1-30 over the past three years, including an 0-10 2008 season in which the team was outscored 505-37?
Officially, Nugent isn’t the PCC coach until the college’s governing board approves him Jan. 14, but has already earned the support of the hiring committee.
“It’s a scary type of feeling,” Nugent said. “It’s hard leaving that comfort zone I have at CDO. That’s my family up there. But this is the next step and it’s a situation I think can be a success.”
When I first talked to Nugent several weeks ago about his desire to take over the Pima job, and after my initial concern for his mental state wore off, I began to realize that it all makes sense.
Aside from Pima striking gold by hiring the best person for a rather unattractive job, Nugent gets a perfect opportunity to pursue collegiate coaching, something he’s dreamed of doing since being a student assistant at the University of Arizona under Dick Tomey 20 years ago.
Nugent, the family-first man who has a wife, kids and a family business less than a year old, gets his shot at collegiate coaching without having to dig up his strong Tucson roots.
“What better opportunity is there for that next step than that?” Nugent asked.
Nugent, who got a ringing endorsement from Tomey for the job, also hopes to build on his strong relationships with the current UA coaching staff to breathe some life into the flat-lined relationship between the Wildcats and the Pima program.
Many top-level college football programs have junior colleges they often work with to send recruits to when grades or test scores aren’t met. Why wouldn’t UA want its recruits to spend that junior college season gaining eligibility while remaining in Tucson instead of going to the Phoenix area?
In turn, Tucson-area kids opting to play for Nugent will see increased opportunities to develop into Wildcats walk-ons or scholarship players.
Of course the opportunity for that is contingent on Nugent, and the PCC administration, delivering a competitive product on the field. Many doubt it can happen at a school that hasn’t shown much support for the football program since parting ways with current Santa Rita High coach Jeff Scurran after the 2004 season.
“I had people try to talk me out of this,” Nugent said. “But I think the administration is dedicated to making this work and I wouldn’t be taking this risk if I didn’t believe it could work. We’ll see.”
PCC did turn the football coach’s job into a full-time salaried position, meaning Nugent didn’t have to take a huge pay cut to pursue it. And the Aztecs have proved in other sports that the hiring of great local coaches can lead to success.
Nugent plans to surround himself with great local assistant coaches as well as continue developing relationships with local head coaches, helping ensure PCC lands some of the best Tucson talent each year.
To kick things off, how about Nugent starting the 2009 season with former CDO star Daniel Nicholas under center? The 2007 Tucson Citizen Football Player of the Year did not enroll in school this year after graduating last spring from CDO, but plans to do so in the fall.
Why wouldn’t he want to continue his football career playing for his old coach in the same offense he perfected in high school?
Nugent’s “experience in helping build winning football programs speaks for itself,” PCC Vice Chancellor for Student Services Robert Riza said in a statement. “Beyond that, he is a man of great character who we feel will be able to recruit student-athletes who will excel in the classroom and on the football field.”
Nugent, who insisted he be allowed to call his players and assistants at CDO before PCC announced its intent to hire him, has a contractual obligation to continue teaching five classes at CDO until the administration can find a replacement.
But he is setting Feb. 2 as the starting date to begin the Pima job.
CDO, in turn, will start looking for its next coach. But assuming athletic director Dave Thatcher is able to keep the core coaching staff intact, CDO’s foundation should enable it to continue competing for Class 4A Division I state titles for at least the next couple of seasons.
While Nugent’s departure marks a sad day for the proud CDO football family, it is the perfect step in the right direction for the rebirth of football at PCC.