NAUGATUCK — The sidelines of the Naugatuck High pitch are going to seem a little too quite next fall when the boys soccer team takes the field. Almost as quiet as the room got last week when Art Nunes, the maestro of Naugy soccer, stunned the crowd at the end of season banquet by announcing his retirement from coaching.
“When is the right time, when is the wrong time,” asked Nunes. “For me, it was my time. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about the past few years. When it all began in 1995 I certainly didn’t expect it all to work out like it did. Of course, I prayed and I hoped it would.”
The emotions ran the gamete from disbelief to heartache after Nunes made the announcement. The man who patrolled the sidelines with his booming voice and yelled out instructions like a general has coached his last game for the Greyhounds. A 21-year run that became a legacy has come to an end.
“I’m not sure he (Nunes) knew heading into the season that this would be his last,” Naugatuck Athletic Director Tom Pompei said. “He has mentioned it the past couple of years, but on [Dec. 7] is when he told me. So I knew what was coming and I was watching the faces of the kids. They were all laughing and talking among themselves and when the words came out of his mouth their jaws dropped and then came the tears.
“In his 21 years he created the kind of tradition like our football and baseball teams have. Naugatuck soccer is the towns’ calling card throughout the state and he made that happen. As disappointed as I feel to lose a coach like that, I’m so proud and happy for my friend.”
During his tenure as the boys head coach the Greyhounds never failed to make the state tournament and never had a losing record. In his first season in 1995 the Greyhounds went 9-7 and never again had that many losses in a season.
In over two decades Naugatuck entered the state tournament with three losses or more only three times. From 2002 through 2004 the ‘Hounds didn’t lose a regular season game, a streak that reached 46 wins and two ties.
“But this is not my success. It’s the success of every kid that ever wore the uniform. They’re the ones who put in all the hard work to make it happen. All I did was stand there and lead the way,” Nunes said.
Under Nunes’ guidance, the boys soccer program produced numerous All-NVL, All-State, and All-New England players, including four All-Americans: B.J. Kochis, Rich Reddington, Tiago Martins and Ryan Kinne. Kinne went on to sign a professional contract with the New England Revolution.
There was also Brian Mariano, who is currently the assistant coach. Mariano was nominated for an ESPY Award for his somersault throw-in that led to the winning goal in the 2001 state championship.
“I remember in the state championship game I decided to just sit there and not run up and down the sidelines yelling at the team,” Nunes recalled. “I was giving them instructions and making substitutions but I wasn’t yelling like I usually do.
“At halftime the team said to me, ‘don’t you care if we win or lose?’ I said, ‘of course I care,’ and they responded by saying, ‘then start coaching us. We need you to be yelling out instructions.’ So that’s why I do all that yelling along the sidelines.”
The final totals are what legends are made of. Nunes ends his career with a record of 331-50-22, two state championships (2001, 2002), and 16 appearances in the NVL championship game that produced 14 titles that need a trophy case of their own to hold all the hardware.
This past season the Greyhounds won the NVL title for a third straight year.
“This might have been the most rewarding season because we were not supposed to be a contender,” Nunes said. “But these kids worked hard and began to put it all together. And to go out as the NVL champions in my final year coaching is a special way to end it.”
The coach admits he will miss patrolling the sidelines, but the time has come to step aside.
“I will certainly miss it,” Nunes said. “But after 21 years this gives me time to be with my family. We have a new granddaughter coming soon and I’m looking forward to spending time with my family. I will still come down to see an occasional game or two but it will be from a whole different perspective.”