Jim Monaco wanted it when Jeff Scurran was Pima’s football coach and he was an assistant. Monaco wanted it when Pat Nugent was the coach and he was an assistant.
Now that he’s the Aztecs’ new head coach, Monaco is doing his best to make it happen.
He wants Pima to host a junior college bowl game.
If Monaco has his way, the game will debut in 2015 and be held at Sahuarita High School’s recently renovated stadium.
There is still work to be done — particularly approval from the NJCAA — but Monaco and his staff are hopeful.
“I said, ‘This is gonna make our program viable, but we’ve gotta win,’ ” Monaco said. “We’ve gotta try to become more self supportive, we’ve gotta keep giving kids opportunities and we’ve got to market ourselves better because we’re a brand. Pima Aztec athletics is a brand. We want kids to get excited, and what better way than to host a bowl game?”
Monaco is close friends with Sahuarita coach David Rodriguez from their time as assistant coaches at Tucson High. When the Pima coach brought up the idea of hosting a game in Sahuarita, Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity.
There are currently nine NJCAA bowls, one of which is selected as the national championship game each year. Last year, it was the Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi.
The yet-to-be-named bowl would be the first in Tucson since 1999, when the Insight.com Bowl moved from Arizona Stadium to Phoenix. And while a junior college game wouldn’t draw anywhere near the crowds of a major college bowl game, it’d be a plus for a city — and sports market — that has seen the departure of spring training, minor league baseball and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in recent years.
Pima and Sahuarita will host a dry run of sorts on Oct. 4, when the Aztecs take on Scottsdale Community College at the high school stadium.
“We have a facility that I know can be a showcase for junior college football,” Rodriguez said. “We have a beautiful turf field, we’ve got the parking, the manpower that is ready to do this ... everything is lined up to put on a neat showcase.”
Added Pima athletic director Edgar Soto: “I just think it would mean a lot for southern Arizona to get a glimpse of a bowl game.”
Scurran tried bringing a junior college bowl to the Old Pueblo when he was Pima’s head coach in the early-2000s, but it never came to fruition. He explored holding one in Nogales, but that fell through, too. Scurran resigned in 2004, and the program floundered until Nugent was hired from Canyon del Oro in 2009.
After he hired Monaco back as an assistant, Nugent brought up the bowl game again, “but his main job was trying to build the program,” Monaco said. “And that’s what we did.”
And for the first time since Scurran last roamed the sidelines, the Aztecs finished with a .500 record (6-6) before Nugent left.
Now, Monaco, Soto and a number of higher-ups from Sahuarita are ready to make it happen. Within hours of talking with Monaco for the first time about it, Rodriguez was on the phone with Sahuarita’s superintendent and members of its city council.
The whole idea has Monaco so jazzed that he’s already thinking beyond the one bowl.
“One thing at a time, but I’ve said, ‘Look, we get this thing off the ground, if it’s successful and people are excited, how easy would it be to add another game on the back end?’” Monaco said.
“It’s exciting, so hopefully our season will coincide with a bowl berth, and hopefully we’ll be hosting one.”