Ordinarily, your first day on a new job is full of promise.
That wasn’t so for Pat Nugent, who took inventory of Pima College’s football equipment and counted 36 helmets and 20 sets of shoulder pads.
His team couldn’t even scrimmage.
On Monday, reflecting on the day five years ago that he inherited a team on a 39-game losing streak, Nugent said “they probably should’ve dropped the program.’’
Now the Aztecs have 100 full-sized lockers, each with helmet and shoulder pads. They have victories over nationally prominent Snow College and Arizona Western. They have a future.
What they don’t have is a coach.
Over the weekend, Nugent told Pima College athletic director Edgar Soto that he will resign effective at the end of the month.
“We’ve won some games and put the program back on the map,’’ says Nugent. “But it’s a tough situation and I’m worn out. It’s time to move on.’’
Nugent coached 51 games at Pima, and it’s probably accurate to say the Aztecs were the underdog in 45 of those games. Maybe 50. When the Western States Football League announced its all-star squad last week, 54 players overall, one Aztec made the list.
Somehow the Aztecs finished 5-5 and won a playoff game.
Soto feared that his football coach might’ve exhausted his fuel supply. “Pat was always here,’’ he says. And indeed, in a Monday conversation, Nugent described the job, the challenge of being the only full-time, on-campus coach each day, with terms like “monster’’ and “beast.’’
There was not enough time to kick back and enjoy the ride, or spend time at home with his wife and four children, two of whom are of elementary school age. At 48, Nugent was fried.
“We were lucky to have him for five years,’’ Soto says. “He was phenomenal.’’
Nugent made one of the craziest handoffs in Tucson football history five years ago: He exchanged a Canyon del Oro team with the state’s best player, Ka’Deem Carey, a program that had won 49 games in five years, for this city’s most moribund coaching job.
You don’t do that unless you believe in yourself.
A year after Nugent left CDO, the Dorados went 14-0 and won the state title. His Pima team went 0-10 that year.
But the challenge brought out the best in the son of a New York prep coaching legend; he dug in and traded blows with the NJCAA powers — he refers to Snow and Arizona Western as “the big boys’’ — and finally, this season, beat both of them.
“Arizona Western has five full-time assistant coaches and Snow has four,’’ he says. “Our defensive coordinator (Pat Ryden) teaches U.S. history at Tucson High School. He then drives to our campus and walks in the door about 4:15 every afternoon. ‘’
Ultimately, that load became too much. Nugent was a recruiter without a budget, a counselor with an open-door policy and a fundraiser whose team had to pay $3,000 a game to rent a home field.
When the Aztecs walked onto the Kino Stadium turf 10 days ago, a few hours away from shocking Arizona Western 38-22 — a program that has sent 79 players to Division I schools since 2000 — the stadium was almost empty.
“There was no chill,’’ Nugent says. He had been spending all of that time, nonstop for five years, and there was no big payoff, no crowd to appreciate the work. It wasn’t “Friday Night Lights,” CDO version.
Or any version.
“Pat was in it for the right reasons, and he got out for the right reasons,’’ Soto says. “He was a big part of our new athletic learning center. He was a big part of our expanded recruiting program, to 15 Western states. He was influential in our athletic-training program and in our equipment program. He did things the right way.’’
Pima College spends about $275,000 every year on its football program. About $55,000 of that goes to the head coach; the assistants split a much smaller pot. The school’s practice field is about 75 percent regulation size. Compare that to WSFL champ Scottsdale College, which trains at a complex with three fields of artificial turf.
There is no new money at Pima, which pays for its athletic programs with student fees, and no promise for better facilities. Enrollment has dropped about 15 percent in recent years.
Somehow the Aztecs kept moving forward in football. Why? One man.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do; I don’t have a job,’’ Nugent says. “I’ll be at home and help my wife for now. I just know that I couldn’t put in the time and effort anymore to do what needs to be done at Pima.’’
Five years ago, in any order, the Aztecs didn’t have enough hope or helmets. Today they have both. That’s a job well done.