Pat Nugent is ready to be a high school head coach again.
The 48-year-old former Pima College and Canyon del Oro football coach will be announced as Cienega High School’s next coach by the Vail Unified School District today, said principal and former coach Nemer Hassey. The move still has to be approved by the district school board.
“I don’t really want to hang up football, but I also want to be the principal at Cienega,” Hassey said. “You can’t have both, so I’m committed to being the principal and I’m completely content. I feel good about giving the program to Pat, and I know he’s going to take care of it and probably make it better.”
Hassey established Cienega’s football program and has been its only coach. Over the last 13 years, the Bobcats have gone 116-38 and have reached the state semifinals in four of the last six seasons, with the most recent trip coming this season with Nugent as an assistant.
“I’ve taken over programs that were not very good at times, but I’ve never taken over an outstanding program like Nemer’s,” Nugent said. “We had to go through the process a little bit, think through and make sure this is the right decision, not only for myself, but for Nemer as well.”
Nugent’s last high school game as a head coach was with CDO in the Class 4A-I state semifinals in 2008. He stepped down following that season to take over the dwindling Pima College football team that had lost 39 straight games.
But after spending five years with the Aztecs, Nugent found himself back on the high school sidelines this season — as a running backs coach for Hassey and the Bobcats.
“I thought I could turn that program around and do the best I could to keep that a career for a while,” Nugent said Sunday. “I think the workload was just too much; it was an uphill battle over there, and I did miss the high school game a little bit, no question about it.”
Added Hassey: “I want to revive his high school career. He’s a very prominent football coach in Arizona and he’s well-respected among his colleagues.”
Nugent called this fall “the most fun he’s had coaching in a long time.” With his help, Cienega went 11-2 and reached the state semifinals after going 5-5 and missing the postseason in 2013.
“That was probably the biggest thing for me,” Nugent said. “Getting back into high school, having fun again and enjoying working with the young kids.”
Nugent took over CDO following a winless season in 1999 and led the Dorados to the postseason in each of his final five years, including a trip to the Class 4A-I state final in 2007.
Prior to his time with CDO, he went 18-13 over three seasons at Flowing Wells, a program that has had just three winning seasons since his departure.
Nugent’s decision to become a head coach again wasn’t that easy, both he and Hassey said.
“I wanted to be in the right situation for myself and my family and I think Nemer provides that at his school,” Nugent said. “It is a tremendous program, (but) it is scary to take over a program with so much success because there’s not a whole lot of upside to it.”
Although it seemed obvious Nugent would replace Hassey following this season, nothing was official until they met this week to go over the details and make sure the move would be a good fit for everyone involved.
“Nemer will always be a part of football at Cienega and that is going to be his passion,” Nugent said. “He wants the right guy in there to keep that program alive and keep it going.”
The biggest concern was that Nugent, an Oro Valley resident, wouldn’t want to drive to Vail on a daily basis, Hassey said.
That isn’t an issue, however and Hassey called his new coach a “community guy,” even though Nugent doesn’t live in the Vail area.
“I still have a little (CDO) green and gold in me, but I’ll definitely be a copper and navy guy now,” Nugent said about Cienega. “No matter if I live in Phoenix or not, I’d make the commute.”