John Nash, the former Douglass football and basketball coach who was a father figure to many young men in West Baltimore for more than 30 years, died Monday after a long illness. He was 82.
Nash spent 35 years in coaching and was The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Basketball Coach of the Year in 1994. He didn't win a lot of championships with the Ducks — one MSA basketball title and one regional basketball title — but he was known as a good, dedicated coach and educator who cared deeply about his players.
"He was like a father," said Lloyd McDaniel, who graduated from Douglass in 1967 and was followed by his brother Joe a few years later. "I tell people this all the time — we had a chance to share being his son. He was a tough guy, a very tough disciplinarian. If you didn't practice, then you didn't play. Education was first."
The McDaniel brothers remained close to the coach, and years later, Lloyd McDaniel said, he and Nash became fishing buddies.
John Nash Jr. played high school football at Poly, but he said he always knew how important the Ducks were to his father.
"He loved his student athletes," Nash Jr. said. "There was a genuine father-son relationship. He wanted the very best for them and that is so important to say, because from there, he was able to get their confidence and their trust and they would go out there and perform well on the field.
"Some people will probably say Douglass didn't have the talent the Dunbars had. Maybe not collectively, but individually he was able to coach some star athletes. Collectively, he was maybe one athlete short on his teams, but overall he had some great athletes on his teams and he enjoyed coaching the great athletes and the athletes who weren't as skilled. He was able to take a young man and mold him into a man prepared for life after high school. He was very strong about getting that education."
John Nash grew up in East Baltimore and graduated from Dunbar in 1952. He spent 31 years as a coach and teacher at Douglass, the last 15 years as the school's athletic director before retiring in 1995.
"He was an outstanding guy and outstanding educator," former Dunbar coach Bob Wade said. "We had some great battles, not just in basketball but also in football."
One basketball game from the early 1970s stood out in Wade's mind.
"He had Joe McDaniel and it was a hotly contested contest and Joe McDaniel shot the lights out," Wade recalled. "We won the game, but it was a nip-and tuck-contest. John did some excellent maneuvering as far as Xs and Os were concerned. He was very simplistic, not a lot of razzle dazzle. He just believed in fundamentals, doing things over and over again until you got it right, and you had to take your best over there to beat him."
Nash was Coach of the Year after leading the Ducks to the Class 3A state basketball final in 1994. The team bounced back from a 1-6 start but fell to DuVal in the championship game, 60-58. He also led the Ducks to the MSA B Conference basketball championship in 1989.
Joe Ward was named the Most Valuable Player of that title game victory, capping his senior season. Ward said he was the first freshman to play on the varsity team under Nash, at one point earning back-to-back Player of the Week honors from The Sun — to the delight of his coach.
"He was more excited than me when he saw my picture in the newspaper," Ward said. "I've never seen him that excited. He thought he won something."
Ward's relationship with Nash continued long after he graduated. Nash was an honorary guest at his wedding. After Ward's father died in 1993, he called Nash every Father's Day.
"[His death is] tough, because he was an extension of my father," Ward said. "He was a disciplinarian. If I went to school and acted up, John Nash wasn't having it. "He was a stern figure. He wasn't going to mix his words. You knew where he was coming from when he spoke. He really cared, and he cared with a stern hand. A lot of coaches today, you cuss out a kid, you [get] in trouble. But when he did it, he showed that he cared."
As Nash was battling illness, Ward often spoke to him or visited him. He got a few of his former Douglass teammates together to go see him. A father of three children, Ward said he has tried to pass along what Nash taught him.
"I think the instruction my father gave me, and the guidance [Nash] gave me, helped me become the man I wanted to be," Ward said.
Nash never won a football title, and the football program struggled in his final 15 years, but he coached several standout players, including two who went on to the NFL — Raymond Chester (Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders) and Albert Johnson (Houston Oilers).
When he retired from Douglass, Nash told The Sun: "It has been a learning experience each and every year and [I] have enjoyed the association with the young people that you have touched and hope you sent them in the right direction."
He was dedicated to his family and, in addition to his son, who lives in Palm Coast, Fla., Nash is survived by his wife of 59 years, Doris Nash, and daughter Brigitte Nash-Hodges, of Bowie. He is also survived by daughter-in-law Mirta Nash; son-in-law Harold Hodges, eight grandsons and six great grandchildren.
A self-described "gym rat," John Nash Jr. always trailed his father around as a little guy and enjoyed sports as much as his father, a three-sport athlete at Virginia State University who won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association high jump championship in 1955.
"My dad is my hero," Nash Jr. said. "He spent time and coached me as a father would coach a son. He helped me hone my skills. He was a great mentor and father, a very strong disciplinarian, very strong, humble and loving man, very caring, protective man. His physical presence is going to be sorely missed, but he is still there in our memories and inside of us. God blessed us with this great man."
He was inducted into the Virginia State Hall of Fame in 1993 and last year, into Douglass' Hall of Fame.
John Nash Jr. said his father was dedicated to the community as well, serving as a deacon at Union Baptist Church and remaining active as long as he could as a lifetime member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
A funeral service will be held at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Dr. on March 11 at 11:30 a.m., with visitation from 10-11 a.m. He will be interred later in a private ceremony in at his family church in Virginia.