Former Garnet coach, athletic director, dead at 91
Former Rye coach John Nugent, seen here in 1974, died on June 26 in Tuscon, Arizona. Nugent was inducted into the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. Contributed photo
By MIKE SMITH
On June 26, the Rye community lost an iconic figure as former Garnet football coach and athletic director John Nugent died in Tuscon, Arizona. He was 91 years old.
Nugent spent 32 years in the school district as a teacher and coach, and served as the Director of Athletics and Physical Education from 1962 until his retirement in 1982. Nugent was one of the most decorated Section I football coaches of all time, earning nine nominations for Westchester County Coach of the Year, winning once in 1973, and earning the Daily News All-Star Coach of the Year Award in 1975.
After his retirement in 1982, Rye’s football field was renamed in honor of the longtime Garnet coach.
Current Garnet coach Dino Garr–who both played for and coached under Nugent–said Nugent’s devotion to the game was infectious, and that his energy laid the groundwork for the Garnets’ success.
“He was an outstanding person, so committed,” said Garr. “He loved football so much and that just made the players love the game as well.”
Steve Feeney, who graduated from Rye in 1965 but still serves as the team’s announcer and is an authority on Rye’s athletic history, echoed Garr’s sentiments about Nugent, saying the former coach had the ability to connect with players on a level that had more to do with personal relationships than football strategy.
“He was always a fantastic gentleman,” Feeney said. “And I think he became a father figure to many of his players and was able to get results at the same time.”
Of course, Feeney said, when the time came to get his team ready for action, Nugent could be a terrific motivator.
“He was a compassionate man, but he had a lot of Irish in him,” he said. “If someone wasn’t following directions or pulling their weight, he didn’t hesitate to address that.”
Garr–who was initially hired at Rye by Nugent–lists Nugent and another former Garnet coach George Maier as two of his biggest influences on his own coaching career.
“Those were the two people who had the biggest impact on me,” Garr said. “It’s not about X’s and O’s, it was about the fact that you were going to do something you could love, and that enthusiasm for the game is what I learned right away.”
Upon news of Nugent’s passing, Feeney said that the loss was felt in the Rye community in different ways, but there was an overwhelming sense of appreciation for everything he meant to Rye.
“As you might expect, it ran the gamut of emotions,” Feeney said. “Some people were in tears, others raised a pint in his honor. He had a wonderful family. He had a wonderful time in Rye, and he was great for the community.”