At the same time, Tom Nola has a heavy heart and a re-energized spirit.
Nola, who coached the Clairton High School football team to national prominence, officially was named the new coach at Gateway Wednesday night.
He leaves Clairton after building the Bears into a dynasty.
In his 12 years as coach, Clairton won six WPIAL titles (five in a row), four PIAA titles in a row and had a state-record 66-game winning streak that was snapped in 2013.
The winning streak gained Clairton national attention. So, many Clairton fans and even Clairton players wonder why Nola walked away from the program?
“The decision was so very difficult, even though some people may not think so,” Nola said. “You get attached to the kids and the community, and it was really hard.
“I know some of the ex-players and even current players said they’re hurt at my decision and I can understand that. They thought I would never coach anywhere but Clairton.
“We’ve done so many good things, and you notice I said ‘we.’ It was the players. They’re the ones who had all the stats, made those records and all the championships. We had really good players and it’s tough to leave them.”
But at age 60, Nola said he was ready to start a new chapter in his coaching career. His voice lifted when he started to talk about Gateway.
He takes over for Don Militzer, who was not brought back after one season. Before Militzer, Terry Smith coached the Gators to big success in 11 seasons.
“Before the end of my coaching career, I maybe wanted a different challenge and different opportunity that Gateway gave me — and that is coaching at a bigger school,” Nola said.
“I know I’m sort of at the end of my coaching career. But who knows how long this can go.
“This is something that re-energizes me and gets me going again. I needed that other challenge now and I think this is really a good opportunity. I’m fortunate Gateway chose me and I want to do a good job for them.”
Nola lives in Lincoln Place and is a retired history teacher from Clairton. He had a 141-22 record (.865 percentage) at Clairton.
He also had coached five years at Serra in two stints (1994 and 1998-2001) and had a 15-32 record there for a combined 156-54 mark.
Nola said he has goals at Gateway, which moves from Class AAAA to AAA in the fall.
“Terry Smith had an excellent record there, and the goal is to do what we did at Clairton,” Nola said. “Get down to Heinz Field and win a WPIAL championship.”
Nola scoffs at the notion that he is too old to take over a new program.
“I’m not old. I still play softball,” he said.
Ambridge hires Bradley
Ambridge hired Dan Bradley as its new football coach. Bradley coached Sto-Rox for two seasons and guided the Vikings to the WPIAL Class A title game both years.
First Published February 19, 2014 8:01 PM