By Rick Assad
Doug Nicol is definitely in rare company after finding success coaching not one, but two sports.
For a dozen years, beginning in 1993 and running through 2004, Nicol was the Burroughs High girls’ basketball coach and followed that up with a six-year stint as the Indians’ softball mentor starting in 2010 and ending in 2016.
Leading the girls’ basketball squad, Nicol’s teams reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs 11 times in 12 seasons.
Nicol’s best group advanced to the 2002 quarterfinals in Division II and finished with a 22-4 mark, the best any team had done up to that point.
On the softball field, his teams qualified for the postseason all six times and captured four Pacific League championships along the way.
Burroughs reached the semifinals in Division II in 2016 and was ranked No. 2 and No. 9 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
But Nicol wasn’t done coaching, returning to his alma mater for a second showing as the softball coach.
Nicol expected good things to materialize, but COVID-19 struck in March and the season was put on hold.
“I was so excited at how our team responded to the coaching change, which basically happened in the final week of the season,” he said. “The girls were incredible and were anxious to be coached and I could not have been happier at the effort and work ethic of all the girls.”
The closure of the campaign was heartbreaking for all concerned. “We had so much work to do and they all embraced it and worked so hard. We were really starting to improve and do the things that are needed to be successful,” he said. “We beat some really good teams in the Hart and Simi Valley tournament and then played such a good game against CV [Crescenta Valley]. It was so encouraging to see the progress we made in such a short amount of time.”
When the season was halted, Burroughs had posted a 6-5 overall record and 2-1 in league play and won three straight, knocking off Dos Pueblos 6-4, Heritage Christian 6-3 and Hoover 19-0, before the season came to a close.
Nicol, a teacher for more than 25 years including the last 14 years at John Muir Middle School in Burbank, where he teaches physical education, is ecstatic at returning.
“It was very easy to come back and coach this year because the players made it easy,” he said. “I was accepted from Day One by everyone and the girls really stepped up and came to work every single day. We knew we were behind in our preparation, but we worked our tails off for weeks to catch up and we did.”
Though the campaign was trimmed, there were many positives.
“Last year’s team came together before we were shut down. We were becoming a real threat to every team we were going to play,” Nicol said. “However, more than coming together on the field, we came together as a team off of it. It was so awesome to see that happen and it only happened because of the support of everyone associated with our program.”
Nicol added: “I was also lucky enough to have a great group of parents, who supported all the girls and the entire program,” he pointed out. “I was also completely supported by our school’s administration and whatever we needed our administration did their best to provide. Everyone knew that a late coaching change is never easy, but the support I felt from everyone in the Burroughs softball community made it easy to return.”
Without capable and talented players, it’s difficult for a coach to garner wins, but coaches are essential in so many ways.
“I believe in being prepared and in preparing my players for every situation they may see in a game,” Nicol said about why his teams were on the winning side of the ledger so often. “Fundamentals are important and those are stressed in our program. We never want the girls to be surprised at anything that happens in a game and I think our entire staff does a great job at teaching the fundamentals and putting them into action during games.”
Nicol continued: “Also, I pride myself on the connections I make with my players. That is very important to me,” he said. “My coaching idol, John Wooden, had a great saying. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” I want my players to know that I care about their success in every single aspect of their lives, whether it be on the field or in the classroom or the community. I care about my players so much and I want them to know that I am trying to develop the whole person and not just the softball player in them.”
Players are the key ingredient in the overall success of any team.
“I have been blessed to coach so many great players in my time at Burroughs,” Nicol said. “Every year I learn something different from my players and that is probably the more rewarding part of coaching for me. The chance to learn from them.”
COVID-19 hit Nicol hard because he was looking to get the team back on track.
“This year’s group of girls was amazing and I learned so much from them. Most of all about perseverance. Our season abruptly stopped in mid-March. One minute we are holding a practice in the gym on a rainy day and the next day we are shut down and our season canceled,” he said. “We went through every emotion you could imagine, from anger to frustration to pure sadness. However, I was struck by the girls in our program, especially the seniors at how they persevered and made the best out of a horrible situation.”
One gesture spoke volumes about this team. “We held a drive-by Senior Day and came together in such a wonderful way,” Nicol said. “It was beautiful to watch how they persevered through all of it and it made me so proud to be associated with each and every girl in our program.”
Nicol may not want to take credit for coaching winning programs, but knows he’s partly responsible.
“I think a trait that most successful coaches have is an ability to listen and communicate with their players and that is something I try to do with my players,” he said. “I may not always agree with them or change my mind about things that we disagree on, but I will always respect my players enough to listen. I cannot tell you how many times I have learned things from my players just by listening to them.”
Nicol went on: “Being a teacher for over 25 years, that is something I developed from so many years in the classroom. This generation of kids/players just doesn’t want to be told to do things, they want to know why they are doing it,” he stated. “To be a successful teacher, and that is really what a coach is, a teacher, you need to be able to listen to your players and communicate with them in a way that isn’t condescending or dismissive. I think that has been a strength and something that I pride myself on.”
Wins and losses are always important, but Nicol wants his players to be more than that.
“I think the most important lesson I always want to impart on my players is to always be a good person of good character and to always represent yourself, your teammates, your family and your school with honor and integrity at all times,” he said. “Behind the scenes we do a lot of team-building activities and really try to stress the mental part of the game and life.”
Nicol continued: “These past few months we have really focused on having grit and embracing the grind each and every day, whether it be on the softball field or in the classroom,” he noted. “I think the greatest thing I can teach our players is to learn how to compete hard every single day in every single thing you do so that you never have any regrets later. We run a competitive program and nothing is given, everything is earned. We have worked hard to develop that mentality and to embrace the grind and grit that it takes to achieve success.”
This formula has worked in the past and Nicol believes it will once again when the softball season hopefully begins.