Longtime Cienega High School football coach Nemer Hassey will step down after the 2014 season to become the school’s next principal, the Vail Unified School District announced Wednesday.
“It’s bittersweet. It wasn’t an easy choice,” said Hassey, who will become Cienega’s principal on Dec. 1. “I’m really fortunate that our district leadership found a way for me to coach another season. I have some seniors coming back, and I felt like I owed it to them to be with them.”
Retiring principal Tricia Peña, who opened the school in the fall of 2001, will leave the school June 30. Assistant principal Julia Kaiser will serve as interim principal until Hassey, who has been an assistant principal since 2006, takes over permanently following the football season.
Hassey, the only coach in the football program’s 12-year history, has gone 105-36 at Cienega. He also went 25-12 over three seasons (1998-2000) at Sahuaro. He took the Cougars to the Class 4A state championship game in 1998.
Hassey has never had a losing record as a head coach and has guided the Bobcats to the state playoffs 10 times. They made it to the state semifinals in both 2009 and 2010 and finished as the Division II state runners-up in 2011.
“We have such a good thing going in football, and I know it will continue,” Hassey said. “I’ll have my influence on the program as far as making sure we continue with the expectations that we’ve established and the programs that we’ve established.”
Hassey was the first teacher hired at Cienega, where he also served as athletic director, football coach and math department chairperson. Hassey will travel to Washington, D.C., this spring to be recognized as Arizona’s High School Assistant Principal of the Year.
“We’re losing a great principal,” Hassey said. “It was just inevitable, to keep everything we’ve established here going the right way, that I needed to take over the reins as far as leading the school.
“I feel like our school is one of the best in the state as a whole so we just needed consistent leadership in that position.”
District superintendent Calvin Baker approached Hassey about becoming principal a few months ago. Hassey initially asked to stay on as football coach — “that would have been everything I ever wanted,” he said — but soon realized it wasn’t a real possibility.
Perception, he said, would have been a problem.
“Most people know Mr. Hassey due to the successful football program he built at the school,” Baker said in a news release. “While that success is important, Mr. Hassey’s most important contribution to Cienega is the strong academic standard he helped establish at the school as a highly successful math teacher and instructional leader.”
For now, Hassey said he’s focused on football. The Bobcats expect to compete for the Division II state championship this fall, even though they’re coming off a program-worst 5-5 season. Cienega started the year 1-5 but won its last four.
“We expect to get back on track,” Hassey said. “We had a tough year with injuries and that kind of thing this year, so we’re excited to get back on the field and compete.”
The move to principal likely won’t put a permanent end to Hassey’s coaching career. There’s still a chance he could return after retiring as principal, whenever that might be.
“I love coaching,” Hassey said. “I’ve got football in my blood.”