Clairton's Nola undecided about returning next season
Don't count out Tom Nola just yet.
With a team of mostly underclassmen nearly carrying his celebrated Clairton football program back to Heinz Field for a sixth consecutive season and seventh time overall, the veteran Bears coach predictably was contemplating yet another return to the sideline in 2014.
He just wasn't yet ready to make it official.
“I haven't decided yet,” said Nola, 60, who has produced an incredible coaching record at Clairton, which had its Pennsylvania high school-record 66-game winning streak stopped by Monessen this season. “There's a lot of good factors to consider, (including) 19 starters returning.
“Coaching certainly is still a need I have. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't do it. But I'm going to take a couple of weeks to really think about it.”
Nola has been retired as a history teacher at Clairton High School for three years. His 12-year coaching record with the Bears is 156-54.
“His resume speaks for itself,” Clairton first-year athletics director Mike Linnert said. “Regardless of his future decision, I truly believe and know that our program is better because of his dedication, knowledge and involvement with the football team and people involved.”
On Wednesday, Nola reflected on a coaching career that has had a few lows (mainly at Serra Catholic, where he was 15-32 in five seasons) and mostly highs (almost exclusively at Clairton).
His combined 17-year coaching record is 171-86 (.665), but he is an incredible 112-7 during the past eight seasons at Clairton, including 88-4 since 2008, with two of those losses occurring this season.
The latest was a 24-19 decision to top-seeded Sto-Rox on Friday in the WPIAL Class A semifinals, a game that saw the fourth-seeded Bears lose a one-point lead in the final minutes and watch their 22-game postseason winning streak come to an end.
Clairton settled for what could be considered a subpar record, by Nola's standards, of 10-2.
“It was a good season,” he said. “A lot of teams would take 10-2.”
But Nola, it seemed, wasn't entirely impressed.
“It hurts. ... It's sad that it came to an end,” he said moments after the game had concluded.
Sto-Rox will face second-seeded Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic for the Class A championship Saturday at Heinz Field. Both teams are 12-0.
Under Nola, Clairton won five consecutive WPIAL Class A championships from 2008-12. Now that the Bears won't be in a sixth, Nola wasn't sure he'd be heading back any time soon to the stadium that seemed to have become sort of a second home for his teams.
“I don't know if I'll be going to the game,” he said.
Though Linnert is new to Clairton — he was hired in June as the district's fourth AD in as many years — he's felt Nola's impact on Clairton athletics probably as much as anyone. He said he hadn't yet met with Nola about his intentions.
“With the season coming to an early end this past Friday, I have not yet had a chance to speak with Coach Nola about his future with the program,” Linnert said. “He is a retired teacher and has the time to put into the program; however, a decision has still not been officially made.”
Linnert said Nola “has earned the respect and commitment from the players that is necessary for success.
“Both the players and coaches truly look forward to the work week of practice, leading up to the game,” Linnert said, “because football is what they enjoy being a part of.”