Jerry Nugent reflected on his career as a prep softball coach and came back to one word to sum much of it up: gratitude.
“I’m a very demanding coach,” Nugent said. “I’ve always had high expectations of myself, my teams and of everyone who worked with me. And everyone’s answered the bell every day. When you’re the person calling the shots, you get a lot of the credit, but you can’t accomplish anything without being surrounded by some really good people … we’ve had a group of people all pushing toward a common goal, and I have so much gratitude for the opportunity to work with those people.”
For Nugent, that work is now done after 25 years as a high school softball coach. He announced last week that he is stepping down from his position as Hahnville’s head softball coach as he moves into the next chapter of his career as an administrator at HHS.
The decision comes three seasons after what Nugent initially believed would be his last season as head coach of the Lady Tigers. After a record-setting 2018 season that saw Hahnville finish as Class 5A state runner-up, Nugent moved into an administrator’s role at the school which he thought would preclude him from continuing to serve as coach. He even informed his team that the ‘18 season was the end. But he was offered the option to move into an administrative monitor role that allowed him to serve in both capacities.
This time, however, the decision is final.
“I’m at the point where I’m needed in other places,” Nugent said. “I’m in a position with a lot of responsibilities … to Hahnville, to my family, to St. Charles Parish schools … it’s just a time where this needed to happen. I’ve always been one who, if I can’t do things the way I need to do, can’t give absolutely everything I have, then I have to move on. It would be selfish of me, as much as I love this program and want to be around it every day, to try and hold on knowing I can’t give the effort it needs and deserves.”
His proverbial practice swing at breaking the news to his players in 2018 made that task no easier this time around.
“It was one of my harder days,” said Nugent, who also texted almost all of his former players to let them know his decision prior to the public announcement.
The search for a new head coach is already underway, with the job opening officially posted this week for applications.
The new hire will have large shoes to fill. Nugent joined the Hahnville program in 2012 as an assistant coach under Kenneth Vial and became head coach following Vial’s retirement in 2015. Hahnville won district championships in all six completed seasons of his tenure. Prior to Hahnville, he spent 14 years as Mount Carmel head coach, a position he was hired for at just 21 years of age.
His overall head coaching win-loss record was 527-181. His teams were a perfect 20-for-20 in qualifying for the postseason. He guided Mount Carmel to a state championship in 2008 and has been named Class 5A Coach of the Year twice.
His time at each school brought a different challenge. 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.
“The program there was just getting off the ground. (He and Mocklin) had that competitiveness in common and a love of sports and everything it can bring you, from character development to discipline to a sheer love of the game, and we were able to build something there.”
While at MCA, Nugent became friends with Vial and would ultimately join the latter’s staff, with Vial communicating his own retirement plans in the then-near future.
“(Vial and Nugent) started having conversations about it and it was kind of the perfect storm,” Nugent said. “He was thinking of retirement and I was at the stage where I was ready to make a move myself. (Then Hahnville principal and current parish Superintendent) Ken Oertling gave me the opportunity to teach and be the head coach at Hahnville and it’s been just a privilege this entire time.”
This time, it wasn’t a matter of establishing a foundation, as Hahnville was operating at a championship level under Vial, but continuing and building upon success – as has been the case for the past seven years.
He said the assistant coaches he’s had over the years have made a significant impact, including Megan Bush and Ayme Barre, who have been part of the staff for almost the entirety of his coaching run after playing for the program themselves.
As for the players, he said, “they’ve made me look good all these years.”
“I can’t say enough about the outpouring I’ve gotten from my players, the parents, coaches around the state … it’s overwhelming,” Nugent said. “And that’s really what I’m going to miss the most. You’re always proud of the wins and the championships, and I’ll always cherish those accomplishments, but at the end of the day, you’re going to miss that camaraderie, and that feeling of pulling together to build something.
“That process, that grind … you don’t do this for 25 years without loving that.”