When Jerry Nugent heard the news, he wasn’t quite ready for it.
“I nearly drove off Hwy. 90,” Nugent said.
Nugent had just been informed he had been chosen for a career-defining honor. The former Hahnville High School and Mount Carmel head softball coach and 551 game winner was to be inducted into the Louisiana Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Nugent indeed officially became a member of the elite fraternity last month, and he said the honor was difficult to process.
“(Amy Pitre, Louisiana Softball Coaches Association President) and I were talking and it was right as the state playoffs were starting. We went back and forth about it and she finally asks me, ‘Well, do you want to know why I called you? … I wanted you to know that the board voted and you and (North Desoto softball coach) Wade Strother were elected to the Hall of Fame.’
“I’ve watched people inducted and I never thought of myself in that light. I think when you’re in competition against them, you’re trying to beat them and you have so much respect for them, you don’t feel like you’re in their league at times. You’re trying to keep up. So it’s a surreal experience, and for my peers to give me that honor, it’s very overwhelming and humbling.”
While the news may have come as a surprise to him, Nugent’s resume leaves no doubt that he belongs.
Nugent’s career record saw his teams win nearly 80-percent of his games, a 551-144 mark overall. In the playoffs, where there are no easy outs, his 38-18, 68-percent mark was likewise stellar.
His teams were a perfect 21-for-21 in reaching the postseason – and almost certainly that number would have climbed to 22-of-22 if not for the COVID-shortened 2020 season, a year in which Hahnville charged out the gates strong. He was a 13-time district coach of the year and his teams were district champion 13 times.
He guided 10 teams to the state softball tournament in Sulphur; six of those reached the state semifinals and two reached the final game. In 2018, Hahnville finished as state-runner up in Class 5A. And in 2008, Nugent’s Mount Carmel Cubs secured the 5A state championship, besting Pineville in an 11-inning, 1-0 classic.
Whether it was at Mount Carmel or Hahnville, Nugent built his teams upon a foundation of consistent principles. His teams would play a difficult schedule, facing test after test to prepare for a district and playoff push.
Nugent said that particular preference came from his mother.
“She always taught me to never back down,” Nugent said. “No matter how good or bad we were, we were going to play the toughest schedule I could find and see exactly what we were made of. It’s only gonna make us tougher in the end.”
The kind of consistent success his teams found wouldn’t be possible were those in the program to find themselves satisfied. That, he said, came from Dad.
“Never rest on your laurels … my entire life, I heard that from him,” Nugent said. “We could always be better, and it was my job to find a way to make us better. It was a mentality of continuous improvement.”
At Mount Carmel, he was named head coach after just one year of experience as an assistant and tasked with building a winner from the ground up. He and top assistant David Mocklin combined to do more than that, as MCA evolved into a powerhouse. Nugent was just 21 years old when he arrived at the school.
At Mount Carmel, he developed a friendly rivalry and soon friendship with Kenneth Vial, the then-head coach of Hahnville.
“We knew if we were gonna have any success statewide, we had to be able to beat the best team in our area, and that was Hahnville,” Nugent said. “We had some great battles, extra inning games … he took me under his wing and taught me so much.”
Ultimately, it was Vial that opened the door for Nugent to join him at Hahnville. Nugent was an assistant on Vial’s staff from 2012 to 2014. When Vial retired from coaching softball, Nugent was his successor.
Hahnville’s 2018 team fell just short of a championship in a dramatic state final game, a 10-9 loss to Ouachita Parish. That squad was Nugent’s best at HHS and it made its mark in a plethora of ways – that team and its players set numerous program records.
At both schools, Nugent’s teams were disciplined and detail-oriented.
“One thing I taught them was that nobody’s gonna outwork us and nobody’s gonna outthink us,” Nugent said. “The difference between the best and second best team in 5A is so miniscule. The championship games I’ve coached in as a head coach and assistant were all one-run games. One break here or there … but to be in that position in the first place, you have to be willing to outwork everyone.
“Understanding what we do when we’re ahead versus when we’re behind, how we pitch to people, what we’re trying to accomplish offensively once we have the lead and control what you can control to maximize your chances.”
Ultimately, it’s the relationships with his fellow coaches and his players that he misses the most. Nugent’s final season of coaching was in 2021 before he stepped away from the game to focus on what is now his current role as administrative monitor at Hahnville.
“The private moments are the things I cherish the most. The relationships I’ve developed with other coaches and the bond with the players. I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve been to. Being at players’ weddings, or seeing them when they have children, those are the things people don’t always see, but it’s what coaching all those years builds.”