Zone Read: Meet Chaptown’s New Sheriff

Arizona Sports News online

Earlier this month Chaparral named Doug Nisenson (pronounced Niss-en-sen) their new head coach.

“Zone Read” recently sat down with the ThunderRidge High (CO) alum and, most recently, head coach for an all-access look at Chaptown’s new sheriff.

Desert Dwelling

Once Nisenson got a little taste of Arizona high school football, he hoped his coaching road map would one day lead him back to State 48.

A self-proclaimed “karma guy,” Nisenson said he “felt good” throughout the series of interviews when asked if he liked his chances of landing the coveted position with the seven-time Arizona State Champion program.

During the multi-week hiring process, his mission was to keep everything in perspective, irregardless if he landed the job or not. 

“I’m very humble and honored to get the opportunity,” he said. “I’ve had a positive opinion and outlook of Chap football for a long time from the outside looking in.” 

How it Started

After a successful prep career at Highland Ranch’s ThunderRidge, Nisenson, a center, had opportunities to continue playing into college at a handful of Division II schools.

However, he eventually decided after graduation to hang up the helmet and grab a coaching hat instead, all while taking classes at Arizona State. 

“My first year coaching I basically sent out emails to a bunch of [nearby] schools,” Nisenson noted. “Tempe, McClintock, Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza. All the schools in that area. I got one email back. It was from John Rodriguez who was at Tempe at the time. He invited me to come down and meet with him, and it worked out where they gave me an opportunity.”

He would spend the 2008 season at Tempe High coaching the offensive line and linebackers. That off-season Rodriguez left to become the head coach at Sandra Day O’Connor, and Nisenson followed, still juggling both his class work at ASU, and the time commitment coaching the Eagles. 

“Truthfully, what got me into coaching was a little bit of regret,” Nisenson reflected. “By the time I realized how much I missed [playing]…I just decided to go into coaching at that time.”

He is forever indebted to Rodriguez and his staff for allowing him the opportunity to not only break into the business, but re-affirm his early desires and passion for the career.

“I’ve been eternally grateful to Coach Rodriguez and his whole staff for not just giving me the chance, but I felt like I got to learn from some really great guys,” Nisenson said. “Gary Hernandez and James Ford. Names that have been around Arizona [high school] coaching for a long time.”

Nisenson’s at the time girlfriend, now wife Jenn, was in a television contract in Raleigh so he left Arizona after the 2009 season and followed her across the country. He took a job coaching at Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina for a year before following that staff to nearby Millbrook High for a season. 

The Nisenson’s would then relocate to northern California before eventually returning to Colorado, where he served as ThunderRidge’s defensive coordinator before eventually being named head coach in 2017. 

Honesty is the Best Policy

Chaparral’s search to replace Brent Barnes started, and ended, with Nisenson. While it’s still far too early to tell if this marriage will be less bumpy than Barnes’ seemingly constant wandering eye (despite leading the Firebirds to a 2021 6A State Championship), the high-energy, new coach on the block promises full transparency within the program.

“I’ve always considered myself a player’s coach,”  he explained. “I always tell my [players], ‘The best route of where we want to go collectively, and you getting to where you want to go as an individual with football, is to speak openly and honestly.’ So, I’ve always sort of hung my hat on good, bad, ugly, or indifferent, you’re going to get the truth out of me.”

Another aspect Nisenson, who will implore his no-huddle spread attack, hopes to infuse into Chaparral is fresh energy, both on and, off the field.

Often, life lessons overlap with helmets and shoulder pads.

“I don’t think you’re going to find any job where you’re going to walk into a scenario where not a portion of your job that you don’t necessarily love,” he said. “So how do you find ways to bring energy in everything you do? It’s easy to have energy on game night. Can you have energy on Wednesday afternoon when you’re tired and it’s [been] a long day at school?’

His mission is not only to challenge his players to be competitive in football but, more importantly, in life, even with the challenges it frequently presents.

Tough to Say Goodbye

Nisenson didn’t just leave any ordinary high school job in a mostly affluent suburb of Denver.

He left his alma mater. 

A program he played for, winning two Colorado state championships in the mid-2000’s. A dozen years later he’d return to the Grizzlies’ sideline and, after winning just three games in his first season, tripled the total a year later – leading ThunderRidge, which competes at the 5A level – the highest in Colorado, to a 9-3 campaign in 2018. Following a COVID-shortened 1-5 2020, the program finished 9-3 in 2021, and 11-2 last fall.

“It was gut-wrenching, honestly,” he explained. “First of all, there’s an inherent love for the program that existed for me that goes beyond just being the head coach there. I’ve built so many great relationships with those kids, my coaches, and everyone involved in that program because it is a place that I love.”

He said his players were surprised when he first addressed his now former team, but he was happy with the way the often delicate situation played out. While it was certainly an emotional moment, Nisenson focused on the bigger picture for ThunderRidge moving forward.

“My main message for years to kids in that program is, if you’re going to do anything as a team or as a program, that means instituting a belief that nobody is bigger than the program, and that the program is going to move on without any one person.”

Nisenson, who at one time or another, coached both the offense and defense at ThunderRidge, continued.

“They need to stay bought into that because that’s what makes special happen. That’s what has allowed us to achieve at the level that we did, and that’s what’s going to allow them to achieve at a high level.” 

Moving On…and In

While Nisenson is accustomed to moving, this re-location is a bit trickier to navigate.

“Right now I’m looking at doing some things remotely,” he explained when asked when he’ll transition full-time to the Valley. “Going down [to Phoenix] as often as I can, but probably not being able to make the full move until at least a month or so. Maybe into May. I’m really hoping to do it as soon as I can. There’s just a lot of pieces to be worked out.”

Part of the timeline will depend on how quickly their recently listed house sells, as well as a couple of other loose ends which need to be tied up before the relocation process is complete.

Nisenson said he hopes to have Chap’s full spring schedule in place this week.

He’s looking forward to trading the seasonal snow for sun.

“The weather [in Denver] just doesn’t allow you to do a lot of football from December, even up to spring break,”  he noted. “I mean, it snowed two days before break. So, facilities are hard enough when you’re competing with spring sports but when have to go shovel a bunch of snow off the field just to get some work in. Usually you’re confined to a gym and a weight room a few months a year, no matter what your intentions are.”

The Firebirds open the 2023 season, coincidentally, hosting Sandra Day O’Connor on August 25th.