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Dean Nichols retires as head men’s soccer coach

By Adam Levine

Sports Editor


Dean Nichols announced his retirement as the head men’s soccer coach to the current team at their end-of-season meeting Nov. 6.


Dean said no one in the room knew the announcement was coming. He hadn’t told anyone.


“I kind of thought I was gonna go in there and just make the announcement, and sort of move on,” he said. “But, it became a little bit more difficult as I explained it.”


Dean took over as the head men’s soccer coach in 2003, alongside his older brother Jon and his childhood friend, Arthur Tzouganatos.


Prior to the 2003 season, the men’s soccer team won five total games in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) over eight seasons - which included four winless seasons, three seasons with one win, and one season with two wins.


The team did not win a MASCAC game during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.


Despite ending the 2003 season with an overall record of 2-13-2 and a MASCAC record of 0-6-1, Dean’s first season was a success.


Dean ends his career as the winningest men’s soccer coach in the University’s history, with a final record of 185-173-33 spanning from 2003 to 2023.


As the head coach, he led the team to four MASCAC regular season titles, three MASCAC Tournament Championships, three National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament appearances, and one Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament appearance.


Dean said, “I never thought about coaching until my senior year of college” when he was asked by his soccer coach at Framingham High School to join his coaching staff.


At the time, Dean was playing soccer at Fitchburg State, where he is a member of their Athletic Hall of Fame.


Dean said the community, both on campus and in the MASCAC, was immediately “receptive” to his role as the head coach.


Photo Credit / Frank Poulin Photography

He said, “I can't tell you how many coaches came over at the end of games and said it's incredible the difference between this year and last year.”


Dean said the most important thing in the shift was recruiting. “You have to have the players.


“Those early years it was a matter of trying to tell the student-athletes that ‘You have a real possibility here to come in and get significant minutes right away’ - which was 100% the truth,” he added.


Dean said he had to let the recruits know “They have an opportunity to play and that we think it's a program that's going in the right direction and to go to a good school - get yourself a good degree.”


He said the best memories of his time at the University come from the people involved.


Dean also said the real number one memory is winning the MASCAC championships in 2008 against Salem State and going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.


He added the most recent MASCAC Tournament Championship title in 2019 was a great memory.


Dean said he first considered retiring during the team’s mid-season winning slump during the 2023 season.


He said he made the decision after they lost to Bridgewater State in the MASCAC Tournament semifinals.


Dean said, “Ultimately, I just felt like it came back to me - that's what it is as a coach.


“I felt like it was time,” he added.


Jon Nichols said he first coached alongside his brother at Framingham High School as assistant coaches.


He said he recommended Dean to apply for a head coach position at Wellesley High School, where they first became a head-and-assistant coach duo.


Jon, who is 14 months older than Dean, said they started playing soccer when they were 9 years old.


He said growing up, he never considered he and Dean would become soccer coaches.


Jon said, “I became more of an advisor to him than an assistant to the team.”


He said he was a “bouncing board” and a “sounding board” for his brother to talk to.


Jon said, “I was actually most in awe of his ability to grow with the game and change with the times - not just from a technical aspect, but just flowing with the way things changed.”


He said, “He goes above and beyond. I don't think people understand the amount of time and effort he puts in to run this team. I feel blessed to have been a part of it.”


Jon said he found out Dean retired the day after he did it. “I think he didn't want me to try and talk him out of it.”


He said, “I think he did what he had to do.


“It was not an easy decision for him,” Jon added.


Tzouganatos said he first coached alongside Dean at Framingham High School as assistant coaches, but did not join his staff at Wellesley High School. He stepped down as an assistant coach at FSU after the 2019 season.


He said, “To this day, my bragging rights are that he never beat me when he was at Wellesley.”


Tzouganatos said, “I had a feeling during college, that somehow someway, we'd end up coaching together probably at the high school level - I didn't imagine at the collegiate level.”


He said when the job opening at FSU first came up, “I just felt like, ‘All right, this is going to be the start of something. This can be the start of something fun. This will be a fun, fun project.’”


Tzouganatos said the first step when they took over the program came down to recruiting. “I thought the world of Framingham State.


“I think the level of education and what the kids were getting was an unbelievable bang for your buck. I thought it was fantastic.


“So that was our pitch,” he added.


Tzouganatos said there was a “calm intensity” about Dean as a coach.


“I think this year was one of his best coaching years,” he said. “I don't know if he would agree with that.”


Tzouganatos said, “I saw his development really come to the forefront over the last 10 years or so with understanding the tactics and what the game called for.”


He said he vividly remembers the morning of the team’s matchup against Salem State during the 2008 MASCAC championship finals.


Tzouganatos said, “I remember talking to Dean - I was like, ‘You know this is what we signed up for,’ and he said, ‘I can't breathe.’ I said, ‘We'll be fine.’


“I showed up to the field and I saw him and he saw me and we gave each other a big hug and I said, ‘All right, let's get after it,’” he added.


The Rams won and then faced Middlebury College, the returning DIII National Champions, the following week in the opening round of the NCAA DIII Tournament.


“That whole experience - that first experience of doing it - that really, really stands out to me,” he said. “That was just amazing.”


Tzouganatos said he was “shocked” to hear Dean retired.


He said he told Dean, “‘We didn't even have a chance to talk about it.’ And he's like, ‘I know because I feel like if I had talked to you about it, either you or I would have talked myself out of it.’”


Tzouganatos said coaching at FSU with Dean, Jon, and Assistant Coach Jared Curry has been, “One of the best gifts that I feel like I was ever blessed with.


“The players that came through this program really just made it so much fun,” he added.


Tzouganatos said, “I can say I also owe Dean a debt of gratitude because he never treated me like just a regular old assistant.


“He never asked me to run it by him - running sessions, the practice sessions, or coming up with game plans. I had full rein. He treated me so well,” he added.


Athletic Director Tom Kelley said he was “impressed” when he first met Dean and hired him 21 years ago.


Kelley said, “Coach Nichols was a competitor and he got ‘it.’


“I can't give him enough accolades for what he did here and accomplished here,” he added.


“The one thing about Dean, you may not agree with him all the time, but he always had the best interests of his team at heart,” Kelley said.


“I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him,” he said. “No matter what we do, we'll never replace him.”


Ean Lorimer ’09 played on the team from 2000 to 2004 and was a captain from 2002 to 2004.


Courtesy of Kevin Ridlon

He said when he first came to FSU there wasn’t the “intensity” and “quality” he expected at the collegiate level.


Lorimer said, “I think [Dean] quickly realized that we weren't at the level that he was expecting either.”


Dean changed the program at Framingham State.


Lorimer said, “It was a pretty drastic change that we all really appreciated.”


He said at one of the first practices he went over and talked to the coaching staff afterward.


Lorimer jokingly asked them, “‘Were you hoping for a little better there, guys?’”


He said they laughed about it, but still kept the positivity about moving forward.


Lorimer said, “One thing I did like from the beginning is Dean had a direction he was going. It was growth and it was a plan.”


He said Dean was reserved, but still personable. He knew his boundaries and did not try to become “buddy buddy” with the players.


Lorimer said Dean made it clear, “‘I'm here to do this job. But here's my expectations for you - you're here to do this job.


“‘We're here to work and to get better.


‘“I'm going to take it seriously and I expect you to take it seriously,’” he added.


Kevin Ridlon ’07 played on the team from 2002 to 2005 and was a captain from 2003 to 2005.


“For me, [soccer] defines college,” Ridlon said. “Playing soccer there was my college experience.”


He said after the ’02 season he was debating between transferring colleges or no longer playing soccer at FSU, but “when I met Coach Nichols and his assistants, I was like ‘All right, this is the right way to go about things.’”


Ridlon said Dean conducted individual player meetings with the team to ask them, “What are your goals going forward with the team and personally what do you want to accomplish in your time here?”


He said, “I told him, ‘I want to be one of the better goalkeepers in the league. I want our team to make the playoffs. I don't want us to be a bottom dwelling team.’


“[Dean] said, ‘Our goals are the same as yours. We want you guys to thrive as individual players and thrive as a team,’” Ridlon added.


He said Dean was “super approachable.


“He always wanted you to do well on the field, but he'd always be asking how classes are going - ‘How are things going outside of soccer?’” Ridlon added.


He said the soccer team formed an intramural floor hockey team at the University, which won the league, and Dean played on the team.


“It might have been some of the most pumped I've seen him when we won,” Ridlon said.


He said he was “honestly surprised” to hear of Dean’s retirement.


“But he had an awesome career - I can’t really blame him,” Ridlon said.


Eddie Palomba ’08 played on the team from 2004 to 2007 and then was an assistant coach until the end of the 2012 season.


Palomba said his freshman year Dean “knew that we weren't gonna be the best skilled.


“We didn't have a ton of natural soccer players. It was more guys that grew up playing different sports.


“He knew that he was going to have to get us into tip-top shape,” he added.


During Palomba’s senior year, in 2007, the Rams were MASCAC Regular Season Champions for the first time in program history.


He said Dean was starting to recruit “natural soccer players.


“The writing was on the wall.


“It was a culmination of, for me, four years of hard work - it wasn't very surprising,” Palomba added.


He said Dean was “very direct.


“You didn't really have to guess what was going on.


“You knew what you needed to do in order to play,” added Palomba.


He said, “He was very direct, approachable, intense, and very tactical.


“He was very, very smart and calculated with everything that he did,” Palomba added.


He said Dean was a “ringer” in hockey.


Palomba recalled the soccer team’s success during intramural floor hockey. Dean was “getting into students during the games.”


He said being an assistant coach after graduation was a “huge honor.”


Palomba, and some of his teammates, were not players during the team’s 2008 MASCAC championship win, but he said, “We were part of that process.


“We weren't on those teams, but I had felt, personally, that the hard work that we had put in, paid off in 2008,” he added.


Palomba started the annual alumni game, which still happens before the season starts.


He said, “It's good to get the guys together for one day a year - relive the memories.”


Palomba said, “I was glad for the opportunity that he provided me, the guidance that he provided me, and the life lessons that he was able to teach me indirectly - whether he knew it or not.”


Karol Tegha ’09 played on the team from 2004 to 2008, but was injured during the 2007 season.


“I pretty much had my mind set that I was going to go to Framingham State,” Tegha said.


Tegha said Dean is a “methodical” guy. “He has a plan for almost everything.”


Tegha said when they first met in person, Dean explained his plan for the team.


He said he thought, “This guy enjoys it, he wants to build something else - this is really cool. Let's do it.


“He did exactly what he said he would and it was the best four and a half years of my young adult life,” Tegha added.


Tegha was a senior during the 2008 season, when the Rams were both MASCAC Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champions for the first time in program history.


He said 2008 was “the best year anyone could ask for.


“We still talk about it to this day - a lot of us that were on the team,” Tegha added.


He said, “He didn't just bring in good players. He brought in good people.


“The one thing I want to stress is that he brought in the right kids. He brought in the right kids and he got us playing the way he wanted us to play. And we all bought into a system because he explained everything to us,” Tegha added.


“He brought the players and he made it work on the field,” he said. “Also, he didn't directly do this, but he made it work off the field.”


Tegha said, “I wish him the best and I thank him for everything he did for us when we were in college.”


Dean coached three of his nephews, Bryant Nardizzi ’19, Bryce Nardizzi ’20, and Jared Nardizzi - a current senior - altogether during the 2019 season.


The Rams were MASCAC Regular Season and Conference Tournament Champions during the 2019 season.


Bryant transferred from playing at North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina Wilmington - both of which are Division I schools - and Brandeis University, a Division III school.


“I transferred to FSU because I wanted to finish my college career alongside my family - I felt like we could do something special in 2019,” he said. “It really hit me in the fall of 2018 when I watched Framingham lose in the MASCAC championship final. I saw how devastated my brothers were. I’ve been following the program since I was a little kid and I wanted to help bring a title to the program.”


Bryant said, “Having Dean as a coach was great. I love his style of coaching.


“Now that I’m a coach, I think I have adopted a lot of his coaching mannerisms,” he added.


“He leads by example,” Bryant said. “Everything he says to the team has a meaning and he demands respect when he speaks. He knew how to get the most out of every player on the roster.”


He said, “He knew when to make tactical adjustments and ultimately just knew how to win games.


“Dean knew how to get the absolute most out of his players,” he added.


“I found out that Dean retired shortly after the meeting he had with the team. I was pretty shocked but I definitely understand the decision,” Bryant said. “He can certainly be very proud of what he built there.”


Bryant said, “I just want to thank him again for the opportunity he gave me to come in and play my senior year for him and be on the pitch with my brothers. It was pretty special and something I’ll never forget.”


Bryce played on the team during the 2016 to 2022 seasons. Because of injuries and COVID-19, he played longer while taking graduate school classes at FSU.


Bryce said Dean and Jon did not treat him any differently as their nephew. “I was just the same as any other player.”


He said Dean is a “winner.


“I'd say he's always two to three steps ahead of other people. He always has a plan going into whatever game it is, and just helps us succeed as a team,” Bryce added.


He said, as an example, during the 2022 season he scored two penalty kicks, both to the right.


“‘I think you need to change where you shoot,’” Bryce said Dean told him. “He was saying I should probably shoot to the left.”


He said, “I shoot to the left, score. The goalie dives to the right.


“To me, that just shows he always knows what these other teams are going to do and what they're watching - that's what helps us win,” Bryce added.


He said hearing Dean retired is “just tough.


“As long as I can remember, he's been coaching at Framingham State,” Bryce added.


He said all the current players are “beside themselves” with Dean leaving and “they don’t know what to do.”


Bryce said, “It just shows what he's done for the program and what he's done for these players.”


Jared played on the team during the 2019 to 2023 seasons and is a current senior.


Jared said Dean told him, “‘I'm not going to treat you any different from any player. I don't know if you're ever going to play.’


“So I came in with a little extra motivation,” he added.


Jared said, “So I came in and I truly had no idea - I was thinking ‘I'm gonna be on the bench.’”


He said he entered college as a striker, but Dean switched him to a midfielder.


Jared said, “I guess Dean knew - I’ve talked to him about it - that he knew I was going to play. He just didn't want to tell me that.”


Jared said Dean coached him and his friends when he was 10 years old on their club team - the Red Devils.


He said, “The games were at Framingham State and then what do you know, 10 to 12 years later I'm playing for him at Framingham State.”


Jared said he was “really upset” when he found out Dean retired.


“I obviously started crying. I just couldn't believe it,” he said. “But until next year when I see someone else coach, that's when I'll fully be able to wrap my head around it.”


All three of the Nardizzi brothers who played for Dean said their favorite memory was winning the 2019 MASCAC Tournament championship.


Courtesy of Jared Nardazzi

Bryant said, “It was a big sigh of relief and joy. We had been through so much that year and it felt like all that hard work had paid off.”


Bryce said, “That was obviously a huge win for us. And that's just a moment that we'll never forget.”


Kunphel Sinha, a senior captain who played on the team during the 2021 to 2023 seasons, said he transferred from Westfield State to FSU.


Sinha said Dean was a “great help” with the process and “made my transfer very smooth.”


He said Dean is a “straight-to-the-point coach.


“Playing under him was a great experience.


“He was a great coach overall - calm, quiet, but knew what he was talking about,” Sinha added.


He said his favorite memory of Dean was after the team’s win over Bridgewater State in the semi-final game in the 2021 MASCAC Tournament.


“We were in the locker room celebrating - he just yelled,” Sinha said. “Everyone was shocked. I think that was one of the most unexpected, but the best memory from him.”


Sinha said, “I thank him for all his hard work and the time he took out of his life - to take time out for us.”


Cameron Lau, a senior who played on the team during the 2019 to 2023 seasons, said, “Hearing of Coach Dean's plan to step down as head coach saddens us all.


“What he has given to the program and done for so many players is what makes losing him especially hard.


“His desire to win and be the best will be carried into the current and next Rams,” he added.


Michael Champagne, a junior captain, has played on the team since the 2021 season.


Champagne said he did not plan on going to college, but knew when he chose FSU he wanted to play soccer here.


“I reached out to Dean and he saw me play against Walpole,” he said. “He actually didn't think I was good enough to make the team at first.”


Champagne said, “I just nagged him - ‘You gotta give me a shot. You should give me a shot.’


“I think COVID kind of helped out because half the roster was gone, and he just needed kids - he gave me a shot,” he added.


Champagne said, “He would do anything for his players. You know what to expect from him.


“He's the most stable human being I've ever met. Win or lose, he’s going to be the same,” he added.


“Dean was everything a coach should be and more,” he said. “He wanted every single player of his to succeed on and, more importantly, off the field. He would drop whatever he had going on in a heartbeat to help us out.”


Champagne said, “He is the most dependable human I’ve ever been around - the most competitive human I’ve ever been around.”


He said, “He was just the best person to be around and it was an honor to play for him.


“He’s what future coaches and teachers should strive to be - competitive, caring, understanding, and most importantly, dependable,” Champagne added.


Dean said, “Thank you” to the athletic department, to his coaches, and to all of the players.


“It’s been a fantastic 21 years. I don’t really know that I'd change anything,” he said. “I appreciate everything everybody has done.”


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