Gateway to hire successful Clairton football coach Tom Nola
The man who led the Clairton football team into national prominence is leaving Class A for one of the WPIAL's glamour jobs.
Sources confirmed to the Tribune-Review on Monday that Tom Nola has been offered the head football coaching job at Gateway and that he intends on formally accepting the offer at Wednesday's school board meeting.
“I'm very surprised,” said Tyler Boyd, who enjoyed a terrific freshman season as a wideout at Pitt after winning four straight state titles at Clairton. “We were always told he was about to retire, and now he's gone to another school. It upsets you. One of the reasons we played so hard for him was because we always thought it was his last year.”
Nola's run at Clairton will go down as one of the most successful in PIAA and WPIAL history.
He led Clairton to a 141-22 record, starting in 2002. During his 12 seasons, Nola led the Bears to six WPIAL championships and four straight PIAA championships. They played at Heinz Field seven times, going 6-1 in WPIAL title games.
Nola's playoff record was 48-7.
Clairton won 66 consecutive games from 2009 through 2013, with its streak ending in Week 4 last season against Monessen.
Under Nola, Clairton reached the postseason in 11 of 12 seasons and produced dozens of Division I players, notably Boyd.
Many former Clairton players are concerned that Nola is tarnishing his legacy by leaving the Bears. Arguably the greatest player in Clairton history admitted being shocked.
“I thought all this Gateway talk was a rumor and nothing more,” Boyd said. “I mean, I never imagined he would leave. It hurts. It hurts your feelings a little bit. We were always told that he was going to be retiring soon, and we were always playing hard for him, thinking this was it for him. I just don't even know what to say. I can't believe it.”
Another Pitt wideout, Kevin Weatherspoon, also expressed shock that Nola would leave Clairton.
“It's hitting me pretty hard right now,” Weatherspoon said. “He was always talking about retiring, so I never thought he'd coaching anywhere other than at Clairton.”
Nola, a McKeesport High School graduate, was previously the head coach at Serra Catholic before taking the Clairton job.
Nola, longtime South Park coach Tom Loughran and former Plum coach Frank Sacco were finalists for the Gateway job.
Gateway has long been fertile ground for Division I talent, though the Gators have not won a WPIAL title since 1986.
Clairton, meanwhile, is left to look for a new coach.
“Here's what upsets me,” said Clairton sophomore quarterback Aaron Mathews, who is being recruited by Pitt.
“I feel like he's been hiding this for weeks. We've all known about it, and he was trying to hide it from us. It hurts.”
Nola specializes on the offensive side of the ball. He generally called all of Clairton's plays and enjoyed showcasing a diverse offense, using more formations than high school teams typically do.
Despite his record at Clairton, Nola was always a polarizing figure in Clairton.
“People always had so many things to say about him and the way he coached,” Weatherspoon said. “A lot of people think we would have won with anyone as our coach because of the talent that we had. But he always put us in position to win. That's what good coaches do.”
Known for his quiet and laid back demeanor, Nola has considered retirement for the past four years. He has already retired as a teacher.
His coaching career, however, isn't finished yet.
Nola refused to comment on Monday.
“He's a really good person,” Weatherspoon said. “I hope it works out for him. But it kind of hurts that he'd coach somewhere else.”
Mathews made it clear that he wants Clairton defensive coordinator Wayne Wade to coach the Bears next season. Wade has long been considered Nola's successor.
“There is no question about it,” Mathews said. “That's who we want as our coach.”