When he was hired as Fenwick’s head football coach, Gene Nudo was already well aware of the Friars’ legacy of gridiron greatness including the incomparable Johnny Lattner who starred at both Fenwick and then Notre Dame as Heisman Trophy winner in 1953.
In fact, Nudo has been associated with several legends of the game during his extensive, wide-ranging career. Nudo spent 22 years in the Arena Football League, his career in the AFL launching in 1987 as the head coach of the Chicago Bruisers. In 1990, he became Vice President of Football Operations for the league, often interacting with famous team owners like John Elway, Jon Bon Jovi and Jerry Jones.
“[Elway and Bon Jovi] were certainly a lot of fun to be on the board with and they had great ideas for the league,” Nudo said. “We had a lot of fun. We were pioneers in a different sport. I couldn’t imagine having a better time helping develop something over the course of the years.”
In 1995, Nudo moved from the league office back to the field when he was hired by the Arizona Rattlers. After coaching the team for a season, he became vice president of the organization the following year. He then became the Rattlers’ head coach from 2006-07 before returning home to become President of the Chicago Rush. During Nudo’s time with the Rush, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was the starting quarterback, with Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher as his backup.
Nudo was inducted into the Arena League Hall of Fame in 2011. A handful of others who played key roles during Nudo’s tenure with the Rattlers also made the AFL Hall of Fame including quarterback Sherdrick Bonner, wide receiver Hunkie Cooper and head coach Danny White. This season, former Rattlers fullback Bo Kelly is a finalist for the prestigious honor.
“I’ve met so many great friends and great players,” Nudo said. “It’s good to know that I was part of such a great team.”
Even before his remarkable AFL experience, Nudo worked for the Minnesota Vikings during the NFL strike in 1987, where he worked with coaches like Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin.
“I was a young coach, but being [with the Vikings] was like I was at a coach’s clinic for a month,” Nudo said. “Those guys are definitely a who’s who of football.”
Heading into his third season at Fenwick, Nudo has been working the expectation-filled Friars hard this summer via their annual Z football camp, workouts, weightlifting and even 7-on-7 scrimmage games. The Friars faced off against rival Oak Park and River Forest last week in a 7-on-7 run.
“It was a great competition,” Nudo said. “It’s great playing with them because the kids from OPRF and our kids all know each other from playing together through the youth program. I thought we played very well and did some very good things.”
While coaching at the professional level compared to high school has many obvious differences, Nudo relishes the rewards both levels offer.
“It’s nice to see when kids come back and see the successes that they’ve achieved as young men,” Nudo said. “Professional football is a business, but it’s great to see how players develop over the years there, too.”
Only a few years into Fenwick, Nudo has already embraced the feeling of “Friar Pride,” which is exemplified continually via the commitment of his players. The program is also on a roll in terms of results, with Fenwick amassing an 18-7 (.720 winning percentage) since Nudo replaced Joe Dicanio.
“These kids believe in what we’re trying to do as coaches,” Nudo said. “In the two years that I’ve been here, their work ethic in the classroom is second to none. They’ve been able to do that on the athletic fields also. It’s flattering that they want to follow myself and the rest of our staff, and we don’t ever want to let them down.”