In her 25 years as head swim coach at St. Joseph’s Academy, Nan Murtagh led her teams to 14 city championships and five state titles (1994, 1996, 2002, 2003 and 2005). In addition to her teams’ successes in the water, Nan was the driving force behind the program’s remarkable growth in popularity.
When Nan assumed the reins of the team in 1984 as a first-year social studies teacher fresh out of Louisiana State University, there were only a handful of swimmers to coach. Indeed, the entire Capital City Swim League was so small that every school with a team practiced at the same time. “There were a couple of us on deck coaching the whole group,” Nan recalled.
Within a handful of years, Nan’s teams numbered between 80 and 100 swimmers. Three years into her coaching career, SJA won its first city championship; in 1994, the swimmers placed their first state championship trophy in the Academy’s trophy case.
Much of her teams’ success can be attributed to the family atmosphere which surrounded the program. Over the years, Nan developed close relationships with every one of her swimmers, making sure each knew they were important to her and their teammates. “The expectation was always that we were a family who was there for each other in all aspects of life, not just in the pool,” she said. “Every member of the team needed to feel important and necessary, whether she was a state champion swimmer – and we’ve been blessed with many of those – or not. Every swimmer was an essential team member.”
To ensure her swimmers knew how special they were to her, Nan gave each a nickname. She even called her teams her “Angels” rather than referring to them as the school’s official mascot of the Redstickers. Galvanized, team members and their followers would arrive at swim meets en masse, carrying signs and decked out in Nan’s favorite color of pink. “One of the greatest compliments we ever received was from another coach at a state swim meet, who commented on our team’s spirit, cohesion and genuine love for each other,” Nan said. “He was wondering how to make that happen for his team. That’s not something you can make happen. The swimmers did that themselves, and it became a habit and tradition over the years. The older swimmers passed on the traditions and work ethic to the new swimmers, and it took on a life of its own. It was what we did and how we did it.”
After a 25-year career, Nan retired from coaching in 2009. She also reduced her teaching duties to become a member of the school’s Mission Advancement Office and to assist Athletic Director Dorinda Beaumont. Away from school, she has also completed six mini-triathlons and seven half-marathons.
Nan remains a passionate supporter of the swim team and her successor, Becca Barber Gilbert, a 2008 Academy graduate and four-year swim team member. “Becca used to tell me that when she grew up, she was going to come back and take my job,” Nan said. “I guess that’s the ultimate compliment, having someone want to continue what we created. And she certainly did just that.”
Under Becca’s guidance, the swim team has captured an historic seven consecutive Division I state championships. No one could be prouder than the Angels’ former coach. “The fact that Becca came up through the SJA swim team system and is continuing our traditions and excellence but also creating new traditions and is humbling and touching,” Nan said.
Nan received numerous awards during her coaching career, including being named the National Federation of High School Coaches Association South Sectional Coach of the Year (2004), the Capital Area Swim League Coach of the Year (2002), the ESPN.com Coach of the Week (September 6, 2000) and the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year (1993). The city of Baton Rouge declared November 19, 2006, as Nan Murtagh Day. Yet Nan dismisses individual accolades, giving credit to the swimmers she coached over the years. “Coaching was a blessing,” she said. “It was never a job. It was something that I was honored and privileged to be a part of and share in.”
Nan is married to Johnny Morgan, a 1979 graduate of Catholic High School. Their son, Zachary Morgan, is a freshman at CHS, and nephew Christian Roubique, an LSU graduate, will join the military this year. Nan’s close-knit family includes her parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws and numerous nieces and nephews.