When a football coach’s first official day at a new job involves sitting in a windowless room answering three hour’s worth of press questions over the steady buzz of fluorescent lights, it’s a pretty good indicator the pressure is on.
“It’s been a long day,” Pat Nugent said with a smile.
The past few seasons have been pretty long for Pima Community College, too.
Nugent, 72-30 in the past nine seasons at Canyon Del Oro High School, takes over a Pima program that has gone 1-39 in the last four years, including a 2005 season when the team played so poorly, the administration decided to forfeit the last three games of the year.
“(At first) I thought it was crazy,” said Nugent, laughing slightly. “But once I met with the administration, they made me feel confident in the direction they wanted to take this program.”
The direction Pima administrators wanted to go included finding a coach whose respect locally could help convince athletes to stay in Tucson rather than jump to junior colleges elsewhere.
“I communicated with a lot of (local high school coaches) before putting in,” Nugent said. “They all pushed me to do this and thought I was the right guy at the right time – if we continued to have coaches say ‘Don’t go to Pima,’ that would’ve made it even more of an uphill battle.
“I feel confident about what we can do to keep these kids in town,” he added.
In fact, Nugent believes that Pima, which is unable to pursue out-of-state talent, is uniquely suited to recruiting Tucson and surrounding communities.
“That’s the nice thing, it is the one program,”he said. “We don’t have to compete with three other community colleges in the area.”
Recruiting is one way Nugent will look to break Pima’s losing pattern.
“As a local high school coach, I’d come to (Pima) games and not know a single player on the team,” he said.
“I think that’s wrong – there is tremendous talent here in Tucson and in the smaller communities,” Nugent added. “We need to hit the Bisbees, the Bensons, the Coolidge area and get those kids involved with football.”
According to Nugent, Pima will give no quarter in the recruiting battle.
“I want to get the right kids in here, and the superstars,” he said. “We are going after the best kids we can find to play here at Pima.”
Those kids will need to step up quickly for the Aztecs to compete in the tough Western States Football League. Utah’s Snow College has consistently been one of the best junior college teams in the U.S., finishing 2006 undefeated and ranked #2 nationally. Glendale Community College and Scottsdale Community College have also been tough on opponents in the past few seasons.
“I’ve watched some video, it’s a very talented league,” Nugent said. “It’s one of the most talented in the country and they send a lot of kids to Division I.”
“With schools like Snow, Glendale and Scottsdale, you see powerhouses that have been around for a long time,” he added.
With traditional heavy-hitting winners on the league schedule and a less-than-stellar past, many coaches might flinch at the idea of what the upcoming season will have to offer.
Nugent, who took over nine years ago at CDO after the Dorados went 0-10 the previous season, has already taken steps to ensure the new Aztec regime begins with a bang, signing standout ex-CDO quarterback Daniel Nicholas.
Nicholas led the Dorados to the state title game in 2007, but did not play football in 2008.
Despite that promising development, Nugent also knows that there will be some bumps in the road.
“X’s and O’s will be a learning process,” Nugent said. “After getting beat up a little bit, you learn to get back on.”
“I’m confident in myself about my work ethic and relationships and my experience in coaching,” he added.
That confidence, from a man with deep Tucson roots and a love of Old Pueblo football, might be just what the Aztecs need to start fresh.
“The motto that we’re going to go with is ‘A New Beginning,’” said Nugent. “This is a great opportunity for a high school coach to stay in my community of Tucson.”
“We want to get that community to be involved with, and excited about, Pima football.”