Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: January’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona

Most Noteworthy Developments for January 2021


Rich Alday (Andy Morales/

Legendary Pima baseball and Ironwood Ridge softball coach Rich Alday passed away on Jan. 6 at age 71. Alday closed his Pima career with a record of 517-251 in 17 seasons when he retired in 2018. He coached the Aztecs for 16 seasons, from 1974 to 1989, before returning in 2017 aspiring to notch his 500th career victory with Pima. Alday coached at New Mexico for 18 seasons, becoming the Lobos’ most victorious coach, compiling 515 wins. He finished with a total of 1,032 wins in his collegiate career. Alday also was Ironwood Ridge High School’s softball coach from 2014 to 2017. He coached that team to state championships in 2014 and 2016. His record there was 107-33.’s Andy Morales wrote of Alday, “Without exception, his many friends and former players will use the words ‘decent’ and ‘good guy’ to describe him. I cannot think of another sports figure, or otherwise, in the Tucson area to have this kind of loving following. All kind words for such a kind man.” A celebration of Alday’s life was held Oct. 10 at the Sheraton El Conquistador and in attendance was his wife Norma, his family, longtime friends and his former players at Pima, New Mexico and Ironwood Ridge. Alday’s brother Sammy, a former Tucson High and Pima baseball standout who went on to coach Sunnyside’s softball team, passed away eight days after his brother Rich on Jan. 14. Sammy played for Rich at Pima. He was a teacher in the Sunnyside Unified School District and local disc jockey for more than 30 years.


Ismael Arce (Andy Morales/

Former Tucson High School boys soccer coach Ismael Arce, who led the Badgers to the 2014 state title, passed away from COVID-19 on Jan. 28. Andy Morales wrote of Arce, who was also a longtime social studies teacher: “Arce was a beloved teacher who held firm to his belief in making a better society today by teaching the wrongs of the past. He taught about issues such as the Holocaust and how the horrors of that past reflects on society today.” The Badgers finished 24-0-3 in 2014. Striker Julian Gaona had 32 goals. A 3-0 win over Glendale Copper Canyon in the Division II championship game secured the program’s first championship. It was also the first state title in any sport at Tucson High since 1988.


Marana guard Gabriella Salazar (Andy Morales/

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board canceled winter sports on Jan. 8 following the recommendation of their health safety board because of COVID-19 transmission concerns. Boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls wrestling appeared to be lost for the school year. However, on Jan. 12, the executive board reversed its decision after a public backlash of the cancellation. Winter sports would go on but with restrictions such as the use of facemasks for all competition and only two parents or guardians allowed for the home team.


Pat Nugent (Javier Morales/

News broke on Jan. 5 of Pat Nugent’s hire as head football coach at Mica Mountain, a high school in the Vail School District that will play its first varsity season in 2021.  Nugent posted a 48-14 record at Cienega, and led the Bobcats to consecutive Class 5A state playoff appearances from 2016 to 2019. Dennis Bene, who coached his alma mater Salpointe to a state title in 2013, removed his name from consideration for the Cienega job on Jan. 27.


Jedd Fisch (Arizona Athletics photo)

New Arizona football coach Jedd Fisch, hired in December 2020, rounded out his football staff in early January. After hiring Ricky Hunley (defensive line coach) and Chuck Cecil (defensive backs coach) in December, he hired Brennan Carroll, Pete Carroll’s son, as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on New Year’s Day. Fisch completed his offensive staff on Jan. 4 with Brennan Carroll, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Jimmie Dougherty, running backs coach Scottie Graham, tight ends coach Jordan Paopao and wide receivers coach Kevin Cummings. Fisch hired co-defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker on Jan. 6, defensive coordinator Don Brown on Jan. 7, linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski on Jan. 12 and strength and conditioning coach Tyler Owens on Jan. 13. Former Desert Swarm safety and successful Pueblo coach Brandon Sanders was hired by Fisch on Jan. 20 as the coordinator of football alumni and high school relations. Brown departed to UMass to be the head coach in November. Dudzinski went with him to be the defensive coordinator on Dec. 16.

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of February 2021

CLICK ON THIS LINK to access a complete rundown of the top developments of January 2021 in Southern Arizona

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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