Tom Pugh felt for the last two seasons that his time on the Holy Cross sidelines was coming to an end.
The 68-year-old Pugh and the school announced his retirement last Friday after 42 seasons at the helm of the Knights and 46 years coaching high school football. He will still work in the school’s guidance department, help out the program when he can and remain the vice president of the Catholic High School Football League.
He just felt he no longer had the passion for the day-to-day grind and long hours of coaching. Pugh wanted to enjoy more time with his family and grandkids, too.
“There is nothing I’m not going to miss, but sometimes you just know it’s time to give somebody else a shot and sit back a little bit,” Pugh said,
He began giving more responsibility to assistant head coach Tim Smith over the last four years. Last season after an overtime win against Chaminade he knew it was time to walk way.
The Knights won the game on a play Pugh put in the day before the game for that exact situation. Flyers coach Stephen Boyd even acknowledged the perfect call in the post game handshake. But Pugh did not get the same thrill from the moment as he had in the past.
“Everything worked in our favor and normally that would keep you elated for three days,” Pugh said. “To me it was just like another day at the office.”
The players could sense Pugh was starting to slowly concede control of the coaching responsibilities. They saw a possible retirement coming. He seemed more relaxed this year even as the Knights suffered through a tough 3-7 season.
“Coach Pugh was a great coach,” quarterback Joshua Evans said. “He let his staff do their thing, but if something was out of place, he would be the first to change it.”
One thing Pugh certainly changed was the direction of the Holy Cross football program. The Knights were 0-8 on all three levels when Pugh and longtime assistant coach Stan Aufieri took over in 1973. Pugh, who played football at Elmont and Emporia State University in Kansas, quickly turned Holy Cross into one of the CHSFL’s model and consistently successful programs.
Pugh won 215 games, guided the Knights to the CHSFL Class AAA title in 1977 and won seven other league championships during his tenure. He is a member of the league’s Hall of Fame. Former Cross star Devon Cajuste is starring at Stanford and fellow standout Kevin Ogeltree just finished his seventh season in the NFL.
“I got Stanley with me and we built a winning tradition over the years,” Pugh said. “We have had a great tradition and I think we kept it above board and clean.”
He isn’t exactly sure what he is going to do with his extra time, but joked it gives him a chance to watch football wherever he can find a game. One thing Pugh won’t stop doing is helping Holy Cross players and students get into college. These are just part of the things his players appreciated about their coach.
“He used to stay on me in school to keep my grades up because he wanted me to play Division I ball,” junior receiver Ahmed Bah said.
Pugh’s successor has yet to be named. He has endorsed Smith and has been grooming him for the job. One thing Pugh is sure of is that his coaching career has come to a close and he has no desire to overstay his time.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Pugh said. “I’m not going to wait too long. I don’t believe in that.