Friday, November 18, 2011

An Icon Moves On

Troy's Nolan Retires
Troy Football Coach Resigns After 28th Season
Troy Coach Was Winner Off the Field, Too
Reflections on a Coach

As I am wont to do on Fridays in the fall, I find myself writing about Troy football once again. This time it's not about a game, though; in fact, it's two weeks after the Trojans' season has ended. And this time it's a little bittersweet.

I started attending Troy football games in earnest as a freshman in high school, in 1991. At that point, Coach Steve Nolan was in just his eighth year leading the football program. He was also my guidance counselor, although, outside of scheduling my classes, I don't remember ever interacting with him. At any rate, earlier this week, after 28 years at the helm of the Trojan football machine, Coach Nolan announced his retirement.

On one hand, I kind of saw this coming. I had been hearing rumors blowing in the breeze for a couple of years about the possibility of him retiring. When this season ended, bringing to a close the careers of a senior class that had led the Trojans to two consecutive 8-3 records and playoff appearances, it seemed that the timing might be right. Still, when I found out it had come to pass, it was a little bit of a shock.

Over the course of the past twenty years, I've become quite the Trojan football fan. During that whole time, Coach Nolan has been the face of the program, the only coach I've known. The other teams I follow--the Cincinnati Reds, and the BGSU Falcons football and men's basketball teams--have all changed leadership at some point. So, yes, the possibility of his retirement had occurred to me...but some part of me didn't really expect it to happen.

Coach Nolan was something of a polarizing figure among Troy football fans and in the community. I've talked Trojan football far and wide and heard a wide range of opinions. People would talk about his refusal to do anything but run the ball (even when the offense grew more balanced, as it did the past few years), his conservative clock management, his substitution patterns (or lack thereof), or any number of failings, as they saw them, and only grudgingly recognize the success he's had over the years. I'm not going to pretend like I didn't take issue with some of those things myself at various points over the years. I did. But at some point I realized that there was a method to his madness, so to speak, and all my frustrations melted away.

Troy is in Division I, Ohio's "big school" division, but is one of the smallest schools in that division. It's hard for a school Troy's size to have consistent success, I think, especially as high school football has become more competitive. Yet Coach Nolan has managed--his 202-95 overall record (and 17-12 record against Piqua) speaks for itself. A good deal of that success lies in the talent of the players he has coached, but Troy often faced off against teams with more talent and came out ahead. The other day I heard someone on a sports talk radio show saying of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski that he doesn't always have the most talent but he always gets everything out of each player he has. That, too, was Coach Nolan.

So, yes, I'm sad to see him go, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also excited to see what someone else can do with Troy's football program. Coach Nolan has left a great situation for the next coach to step into. Personally, I think it'll be defensive coordinator Scot Brewer who steps into Coach Nolan's considerable shoes--I've had him pegged as the successor since watching him transform Troy's defense into a formidable unit over the past several years--but we shall see if time bears that out. It sounds like they're looking to have a new coach in place by the end of the month, so we won't have to wait long. Whoever they choose, their first game will be at home against Chaminade-Julienne on August 24 of next year (280 days), and I'll be there to usher in a new era of Trojan football.

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