When Denis Nolan stepped down as Bishop Ford girls basketball coach three years ago, he was sure he’d somehow return to his alma mater. He just never thought it would be as a boys varsity coach.
But that’s just what happened this week as Nolan replaces John Infortunio, who resigned after four years on the job.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Nolan. “It’s actually been a dream of mine for a long time.”
For a long time, though, that’s all it was – a dream. After a year of coaching the freshman team and a decade as the junior varsity coach, five of which as Ray Nash’s varsity assistant, it seemed like Nolan was being groomed for the varsity job.
But in the middle of the 2000 season, Nolan, 46, took over the Falcons girls program as a favor to Nash. He never thought it would be permanent, but he remained on the job for eight more years. Nash retired from coaching, Forte Bellino took over and then Glenn Thomas got the job.
“I thought that was my opportunity that I missed out on, but it was my own decision to try and be loyal to the girls who were there,” Nolan said.
Worried about burning out after “putting so much pressure on myself to win and compete,” Nolan walked away from Bishop Ford and accepted the girls basketball position at Lincoln HS.
“I wanted to leave on good terms,” he said. “I’m an alum from here and everything I’ve learned as a basketball coach, I’ve learned from the coaches here. In my heart I always knew I’d come back, I just didn’t know in what capacity.”
A 1982 Bishop Ford graduate, Nolan spent two years coaching the Railsplitters, but resigned a few weeks ago.
“I’m very grateful to Lincoln for giving me the opportunity to try to coach there,” Nolan said. “I got a lot of support from everybody. I just didn’t do a very good job of getting through to the girls.”
Nolan was mulling his future and was ready to walk away from coaching basketball altogether after serving as the head coach of the New York City girls scholastic team at the Empire State Games. Bishop Ford boys athletic director Pete Goyco is the basketball coordinator and was on the phone with Nolan last week discussing practice venues when he was told that Nolan stepped down as Lincoln coach.
It didn’t take very long for Goyco to think of Nolan as the perfect candidate to take over for Infortunio, who led the Falcons to the CHSAA Class A intersectional title three years ago, but stepped down earlier this month. Infortunio couldn’t be reached for comment.
“First and foremost we know his ability to coach because we’ve seen him coach not only on the girls side, but also with the boys,” Goyco said. “Because he’s a graduate, he understands the philosophy of the school, understands the people who are here. Going forward with someone as a coach, I think that’s really important. That’s one of the biggest things he brings to the table.”
It took even less time for Nolan to accept the offer.
“When [Goyco] told me and asked if I’d be interested in it, chills went down my back,” he said.
Nolan thinks the transition back to boys basketball will be seamless. His team will still primarily play man-to-man defense and many of those he coached against on the junior varsity level are now varsity coaches, including Nazareth’s Todd Jamison and Iona Prep’s Vic Quirolo.
“I was a little worried at first how I’d be received from the boys, but from a coaching standpoint when I started coaching the girls, I didn’t change my coaching philosophy too much,” Nolan said.
Nolan will work with Goyco to form a coaching staff and, after meeting a few of the players this week, will introduce himself to the rest of the players when they return from various AAU tournaments. There’s plenty of work to do, but Nolan will get to do it back at Bishop Ford, which is what he’s always wanted.
“I’m very happy to be back at the school,” Nolan said.