East/South Xtra: Former Clairton coach and Gateway are adapting to one another
August 21, 2014 12:00 AM
New Gateway coach Tom Nola keeps a close eye on practice earlier this month.
By John D'Abruzzo / Tri-State Sports & News Service
Tom Nola still is adjusting to the change.
After more than a decade coaching Clairton and building the Mon Valley school into a perennial Class A football powerhouse, Nola now finds himself in Monroeville and preparing for his first season at the helm of Gateway.
"It's a little different and a little strange for me right now," Nola said. "Everything has gone pretty well so far. Everyone has accepted me. It was slow in the beginning, but our players have come around to the new coaching style and philosophy.
"Everyone seems to be catching on and the kids are progressing nicely."
At Clairton, Nola coached for 12 seasons and produced a 136-22 record while leading the Bears to six WPIAL championships and four PIAA titles. Under his direction, Clairton gained national attention last fall with one of the country's longest winning streaks in high school football. The Bears won a state record 66 consecutive games from 2009 through 2013 before losing to Monessen in Week 4 last season.
"That's just one thing that made him so inviting as a coach," Gateway athletic director Randy Rovesti said. "With his past success, we hope it works out with the same magnitude at Gateway."
Nola, 60, is a McKeesport Area graduate. He also coached at Serra Catholic before he took over at Clairton and enters this season with a 151-54 career coaching record.
After last season, there was a lot of speculation that Nola, a retired history teacher, would retire from coaching. He, however, was hired by Gateway in February.
"It's a new challenge on the horizon," Nola said. "I just look at it as a new challenge.
"Coaching football, no matter where, is always the same. Now I just have a few more bodies to take care of. It's a bigger school now."
Nola replaces Donnie Militzer, whose position was opened by the school district after only one season. Under Militzer, the Gators qualified for the WPIAL playoffs and finished 8-3 after losing to Central Catholic during the Class AAAA quarterfinals.
Before Militzer, Terry Smith coached the program for 11 seasons and led the Gators to 101-30 record during his tenure. Gateway, which last appeared in a WPIAL championship game in 2008, has not won a district title since 1986.
"Coach Nola is a mature coach who brings a lot to the table," Rovesti said. "He's a gentleman. The kids like him and they have already bought into him.
"Whether you win or lose, there's a lot more that goes into a successful season. It's how you interact and represent the school. So far, he's been outstanding and has already done a great job representing Gateway and the people of Monroeville."
Besides taking on a new coach, Gateway's football program also will have to adjust to playing in a new classification. Since the school opened in 1958, it had always participated in the largest-school classification. Realignment throughout the WPIAL, however, dropped the Gators to Class AAA for this season.
"I know we'll be playing a lot of good teams in this conference," Nola said. "And they're all well-coached teams."
This fall, Gateway will compete in the Greater Allegheny Conference against Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Hollidaysburg, Indiana, Knoch, Mars Area and Yough.
"The unfamiliarity with the teams in our conference will be the biggest adjustment," Nola said. "It's the newest part of the job because in Single-A you pretty much know most of the teams and they knew us.
"This is different. Not knowing the opponent is the biggest difference, but we will get to that point when it comes week to week."
Gateway opens its regular-season schedule Aug. 29 at home against Greensburg Salem.
"Everything is just the same as it always has been," Nola said. "Football is about execution and taking care of the ball.
"The biggest thing for us will be to execute our assignments and take care of the ball while not giving up too many opportunities to our opponents."
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