Tom Nola is accustomed to a legend looming, whether the name on the stadium is Clairton's Neil C. Brown or Gateway's Pete Antimarino.
Nola knows that coaching at a traditional WPIAL power comes with greater expectations.
Winning isn't enough.
Clairton won six WPIAL Class A and four PIAA championships and set a state record with a 66-game winning streak under Nola, yet he was a polarizing figure among Bears fans.
So, Nola chased a new challenge by becoming Gateway's third coach in as many seasons.
“It was difficult leaving,” Nola said Monday after his first full-contact practice of training camp. “The streak had ended, and I wanted to try a bigger school with some tradition of winning. I wanted to see what it's like.”
Nola has told his team that the expectation is to play at Heinz Field, home of the WPIAL finals.
“It's a lot easier said than done,” said Gateway defensive line coach Shayne Hale, who starred on the '07 finalists, “but (Nola) knows how to win.”
Winning wasn't enough for Gateway when Terry Smith led the Gators to four WPIAL runner-up finishes between 2004-09.
Winning wasn't enough for Gateway when Donnie Militzer led the Gators to the WPIAL quarterfinals last year.
If expectations are greater now that Gateway has dropped from Class AAAA to Class AAA, they also might be more unrealistic.
There aren't many pushovers scheduled. Central Valley, Thomas Jefferson and two-time defending champion West Allegheny could await in the playoffs.
Yet Gateway expects a title.
“I hope I can bring that,” Nola said. “I think that's why they hired me, because of my previous experience and the winning we did at Clairton.
“Now I'm a Gator, though.”
That has a nice ring, just not the kind Gateway wants.
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