The man who I believe has the single most difficult coaching job in Southern Arizona, Pima College football coach Pat Nugent, did something far more difficult Friday. He eulogized his father, John Nugent, during a service in Oro Valley.
"You may see a little bit of Dad in me," he said, remembering the Rye, N.Y., coaching legend who was so successful, a .746 winning percentage from 1962 to 1975, that the school's football facility is now named John J. Nugent Stadium.
John Nugent, who died last week at 91, lived in Oro Valley for 25 years, a regular at Flowing Wells and CDO football games and practices, watching as his son coached the Caballeros and Dorados to 106 victories, the seventh-highest total in Tucson prep history. Like father, like son.
I've admired Pat Nugent for not taking the easy way out, a trait he says came from watching his father. Pat left a CDO team that reached the 2008 state title game - one that had gone 41-9 in four years and would go undefeated a year later with Ka'Deem Carey at tailback - to take on a Pima College program that lost 39 consecutive junior college games.
Coaching the Aztecs in a league with national contenders Snow College, Arizona Western and a couple of Phoenix-area powers has been more difficult than even Nugent could have imagined. The Aztecs have gone 8-36, struggling against opponents who have dormitories and a national recruiting reach. Pima has no home field and a practice turf that is about 60 percent of a regular football field, if that.
Nugent further could have bailed out on the Aztecs during mid-semester, leaving them up a creek, by going full bore to be the new head coach at Catalina Foothills High School, a job many believe was his to turn down. Instead, he said it wouldn't be fair to quit on Pima after a 1-10 season.
During Friday's memorial service, Pat Nugent recalled that after the Rye Garnets would win a big game, it was routine for townspeople to arrive at the coach's house and chant "Cheer, cheer, cheer for Nugent and his crew."
That rings true today, too.
Have swimmers, will travel
UA coaches Hansen, DeMont take groups to Spain, Russia
UA swimming coach Eric Hansen last week learned he has been chosen as an assistant coach for the United States team that will compete in the FINA World Championship in Barcelona, Spain, July 19 to Aug. 4.
A day later, his top assistant, former world record holder Rick DeMont, was selected to be an assistant coach on the U.S. team for the World University Games Wednesday through July 17 in Kazan, Russia.
That reflects on the unusually deep and talented UA and Ford Aquatics programs. UA/Ford swimmers Matt Barber, Giles Smith and Adam Small left Friday for Russia and the World University Games.
Next week, UA/Ford swimmers Kevin Cordes, Matt Grevers, Christine Magnuson and Kevin Steel will accompany Hansen to Spain.
USA Swimming announced last week it will pay its swimmers a combined $3.1 million for medals at the World Championships. That won't help Cordes, who could earn $15,000 for each gold medal ($10,000 for a silver and $5,000 for a bronze) in the breast stroke, an event in which he is one of the favorites. As a swimmer with college eligibility, Cordes would have to decline all prize money.
The USA Swimming entourage includes Tucsonan Penny Taylor, a 1948 Olympian who is essentially the on-site manager of Team USA's day-to-day activities.
UA's Ianello loses Jackson, but good help is on the way
UA women's golf coach Laura Ianello, whose team will be among those expected to contend for the 2014 NCAA championship, suffered a significant loss last week. Sophomore Janie Jackson, who was seventh in the Pac-12 last year and third on the Wildcats with a 74.5 scoring average, left school. She will enroll at Alabama, near her home in Huntsville, Ala. The good news: Incoming UA freshman Jessica Vasilic of Anaheim, Calif., ranked by some among the nation's 10 leading recruits, qualified for this month's U.S. Women's Amateur. … Tucson native Jim Grabb, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in tennis doubles in 1989 and 1993, will be inducted into the Maccabiah Games Hall of Fame on July 17 in Israel. The Tucson High and Stanford product was part of the USA's 1993 Davis Cup team. Grabb is chief financial officer for a New York City investment firm. … When Butler coach Brad Stevens jumped to the NBA's Boston Celtics last week, it had an impact in Tucson. His father, Dr. Mark Stevens, is an orthopedic surgeon in Tucson and was a football player on Indiana's 1968 Rose Bowl team. Brad Stevens' uncle, Dale Stevens, is a dentist in Tucson. … Remember UA receiver Andrae Thurman from the John Mackovic years? At 32, he was named the Arena League's Player of the Week. He caught seven passes for 113 yards and three TDs and returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week for the Philadelphia Soul. Thurman caught 105 passes at Arizona but completed his career at Southern Oregon after academic issues.
Cats' offense shows slippage
Not to suggest that Rich Rodriguez's offense has been diminished since setting a school record with 496 points last season, but the UA offensive player selected to be spotlighted in Los Angeles at the Pac-12 media day on July 26 is receiver Terrence Miller. That exhibits the loss of veteran star power at Arizona. Miller has seven career starts and 55 total receptions. Juniors such as Ka'Deem Carey are generally not part of media day interviews, although ASU will send junior QB Taylor Kelly to media day. … The arms race in Pac-12 football is so crazy that on the week Arizona began moving into its 143,000-square foot Lowell-Stevens Facility, Utah coach Kyle Wittingham announced the Utes would begin moving into a 120,000-square foot football plant in Salt Lake City. You'd almost never know the Utes were keeping up. They have yet to release a video or images or have media tours in their football building. By comparison, UA athletic director Greg Byrne has released a three-part video and dozens of photographs and has hosted media/insider tours of the Lowell-Stevens building since April. … Had he excelled similarly in a sport such as basketball, baseball or football, UA grad Clark Burckle, a 2012 Olympian (swimming, breast stroke) would be cashing paychecks now. Instead, he has been accepted to Stanford, where he will enter graduate school in finance. You can't beat that.
More Short Stuff
Hardy picked as All-Star, but some of the best don't make it
Sabino grad J.J. Hardy's selection to the American League All-Star team on Saturday isn't new, although he joins ex-UA basketball player Kenny Lofton as the only Tucson-connected players voted into the game. Hardy also played in the 2007 All-Star Game. How tough is it to be an All-Star? Amphi grad Alex Kellner, a lefty pitcher, made the 1949 National League squad in a year he went 20-12. Former UA stars Scott Erickson made the 1991 American League team, and ex-Wildcat Trevor Hoffman was on seven All-Star Game teams. Canyon del Oro grad Ian Kinsler was selected in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Who didn't make it? J.T. Snow won six Gold Gloves as a first baseman and twice had 100 or more RBIs in a season but was never an All-Star. Same for ex-UA pitcher Joe Magrane, who won 18 games in 1989. … Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez lost one of his top recruits, outfielder/pitcher Billy Roth of Vista, Calif., last week. Roth, a 16th-round draft pick from Pittsburgh, accepted a $190,000 bonus from the Pirates. Lopez is hopeful that next season's expected No. 1 pitcher, James Farris, a 2012 College World Series star, won't bite on a late offer from the Houston Astros. Farris, the 15th-round pick of Houston, is one of just three of 30 selections in the 15th round who has not signed. Farris has always been academically oriented and is likely to return to Arizona to finish his degree. His father, Dr. James Farris, earned a doctorate at Ohio State and is chair of the Arizona School of Health Science in Phoenix. … UA softball coach Mike Candrea quietly signed Pima College standout outfielder Gemma Contreras last week. The Salpointe grad was Pima's leadoff hitter, a .388 batter with 38 stolen bases (more than the entire Arizona team of 2013). She will join teammate Cynthia Pelayo competing for a starting job in the UA's 2014 outfield. Contreras hit .434 and .388 in two years, both of which concluded with PCC finishing No. 3 in the nation. ... Sahuaro High senior-to-be baseball player Alex Verdugo last week committed to play at Arizona State. The odds of that happening, Verdugo as a Sun Devil, are thin. Unless he is injured before the 2014 draft, he'll be a high draft choice and never play college baseball. That's partly why Arizona didn't pursue Verdugo with total seriousness.
My Two Cents
Parental pressure has negative influence in prep sports
The 2012-13 school sports calendar is over, but I have one final comment.
The most disturbing transaction of the year, from preps to pros locally, was Salpointe Catholic's firing of boys and girls volleyball coach Amy Johnson, who for 13 years built the city's top volleyball program and, in doing so, was known for her character and tough-love approach.
Salpointe dismissed Johnson, she says, because of parental pressure. (The Salpointe administration has chosen not to speak publicly about the issue.)
That's hardly the first time parental influence has infested prep sports. It is manifest at every school, ever year.
Ex-Lancers boys basketball coach Brian Peabody, who coached the team to unprecedented heights, lost a battle with parents and was asked to leave almost a decade ago.
Johnson told me, "I never had a bad evaluation, I never had a losing season, and I never had an administrator tell me I was doing things wrong. They offered to let me keep coaching the boys team, but at that point, who could I trust?"
Salpointe replaced Johnson with Catalina High's Heather Moore-Martin, one of the leading coaches, of any sport, in Tucson. In that respect it won.
I wish her the best of luck swimming with the sharks.