Nemer Hassey has been around football all his life. That’s why the 2014 season will be so bittersweet.
Hassey, a longtime coach who built Cienega into one of the state’s premier programs, will step down this season to focus on his administrative duties. He was named Cienega’s principal this summer, replacing Tricia Peña. He decided shortly after accepting the job that this year would be his last as a coach.
“We have a great school and we had a great principal in Dr. Peña,” said Hassey, who had been an assistant principal since 2006. “Because of her, I am where I am at today so it was time to step up for the school and the community and keep the excellence going.”
On the gridiron, excellence is a perfect way to describe what Hassey produced.
Over the last 12 years, Cienega has gone 105-36 and qualified for the state playoffs all but one season. The Bobcats reached the state semifinals in 2009 and 2010 and were the Division II state runners-up in 2011.
Hassey, who has never had a losing season, came to Cienega from Sahuaro, where he went 25-12 in three seasons and led the Cougars to the 1999 Class 4A championship game.
Not a bad résumé for someone who wanted to be a football coach way back when he was a quarterback for Sabino.
Hassey, 44, insists he isn’t retiring from football. Just taking, as he says, a “detour.”
“I’m never going to be out of football forever,” Hassey said. “I always thought I was going to be 60 or 65 years old and still coaching football.
“That’s still probably going to happen but it’s just a little detour right now.”
Hassey said the change could be a good thing, or it could be miserable, and he honestly won’t really know until it’s a reality. He says he’ll miss the game planning most of all.
“You feel miserable when it doesn’t, but when a plan goes well on a Friday night and you’re walking off the field with a victory, that’s the best feeling in knowing your game plan came together,” he said.
Other Southern Arizona coaches have benefited from time away from the game. Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran took a few years away from the high school game after leading Santa Rita to back-to-back state championship games. Richard Sanchez left Sunnyside for a district-level administrative job, though he’s now looking to return to coaching.
Then there’s Pat Nugent, who is now an assistant on Hassey’s staff and is his likely replacement. Nugent served as the head coach at Canyon del Oro and Pima College before departing following the 2013 season.
Hassey’s replacement, whether it’s Nugent or someone else, won’t be determined until after the season.
“He loves this school so much (that) he doesn’t want to give up the principal job, but his passion is football,” Nugent said. “I know it’s going to be one of the hardest things he ever does to give up his passion of football to be a principal.”
Hassey said he isn’t thinking about the fact that, a year from now, he’ll be doing something else rather than getting set for another football season. Still, his final season — for now — is an important one.
The Bobcats are coming off a 5-5 season, their worst ever, and failed to make the playoffs for the first time.
Hassey said he is eager for a chance at redemption.
“We’ve always made the playoffs,” Hassey said. “Even when I was an assistant coach or a player we always made it. That’s what you do.”
Hassey might not have to worry about getting the game-day nerves and butterflies he described as “miserable” next fall. However, one thing that will stay the same is where he’ll be on Friday nights.
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve been at Friday night games: My parents took me all the time,” he said. “I’ve been a Friday night freak forever and that won’t change, I’ll still be at Cienega games.”