Greg Hansen: Coaches' families provide peace among tumult

2012-09-12T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Coaches' families provide peace among tumultGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In the post-game mob scene at Arizona Stadium, as quarterback Matt Scott conducted the band in "Bear Down, Arizona," Raquel Rodriguez found her father in the crowd, took a running start and jumped into his arms, an embrace that probably meant as much to Rich Rodriguez as hanging 59 points on the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The cheers are nice, yes, and so is the paycheck, but nothing rewards a winning coach more than the happy faces and acceptance of his family. They live the struggle and understand the uncertainty.

As Rodriguez walked off the field with Raquel and his son, Rhett, it was a rare image of peace in a game given to tumult. It might have been the first time the coach had been able to sustain a smile all week.

A day later, on the turf at Kino Stadium, Pima College coach Pat Nugent caught the sparkling eyes of his wife, Michelle, after the Aztecs won their first game of the season, 24-12 over the Air Force Academy JV.

"She really stresses out during the games," Nugent said with a laugh. "It was a combination of joy and relief to see her and the girls, Ysabella and Gabryella. You forget about the grind for a few hours."

If you think RichRod put his career in peril by coaching the Arizona Wildcats, it's nothing compared to what Pat Nugent did when he agreed to coach PCC four years ago.

He left what was then the top high school coaching job in Southern Arizona, a Canyon del Oro football team that had gone 41-9 in four seasons, reaching the state championship game, a program that had gone 0-10 a year before Nugent was hired.

He left the Dorados just as Ka'Deem Carey and Jared Tevis emerged as Tucson's two leading football players, a one-two punch that led CDO to a perfect season, 14-0, and the state title.

Now, at Pima, Nugent has a 7-28 record.

He inherited a team that had gone an unspeakable 0-50 against junior college competition over five seasons. He knew that winning football games would be difficult, but what he didn't fully comprehend was how much he would come to appreciate each one.

Much like RichRod in his final three seasons at West Virginia, 32-5 overall, Nugent was 31-7 in the same period at CDO. Losing was so rare that it was almost a shock. Now it has been reversed.

No wonder the postgame embraces are so rewarding.

"Coach Rodriguez told us last week that we want to be relevant again," UA junior guard Chris Putton said Monday. "Now that we are, we want to stay there and not be cast under a shadow again."

Shadows have a way of finding football coaches, at Michigan and Arizona and at Pima College.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever done," said Nugent. "When you're losing, you question everything you do. Every week you ask, 'Why am I doing this?'"

Nugent and RichRod share so much beyond Carey and Tevis. Both inherited football clubhouses with broken spirits and personnel deficits.

Whereas Pima had not recovered from the forced departure of its first coach, Jeff Scurran in 2004, Arizona had collapsed, torn asunder by eight years of insecurity and discord under Mike Stoops.

Pima starts 14 freshmen in a sophomore-dominated league.

Arizona is so thin that RichRod famously responded to a question about his depth chart by saying "don't you have to be two-deep to have a depth chart?"

"In a perfect world, when we have this thing built exactly the way we want it," said Rodriguez, "we'll be playing two-deep on both sides, 22 or 23 guys on both sides. If we do our job developing and recruiting, we'll get to that point someday."

By beating Oklahoma State last week, Rodriguez bought himself some time and created considerable good will and belief that he is The Man Who Will Get The Job Done.

Nugent, however, must follow his Sunday evening victory with a game against third-ranked Arizona Western, an imposing JC team that is stocked with major-college recruits from coast to coast.

"This week we'll play the Big Boys," Nugent said. "Western has dorms, scholarships and bounce-back kids who started out on major-college rosters.

"It's not a mismatch, not like Savannah State or anything, but remember, we started this program three years ago with all Tucson kids. We're a whole lot better now, but it takes time."

Arizona gets its welcome-back-to-reality version of the Big Boys next week at Oregon, in front of the nation's college football cognoscenti, prime time on ESPN.

If you coach football, there's always a Big Boy scheming to take the smile off your face.

"A job like this can be an ego-killer," said Nugent. "But at least I know my girls love me even if we lose."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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