RIC SUGGITT - MORE THAN A COACH - submitted by Jill Tataryn
As athletes, coaches are people who you spend hours on end with, learning plays, developing skills, and sometimes running lines, be it for fitness or punishment. It is the time spent off the pitch, however, that generally has the greatest impact. Despite having had many coaches in my lifetime, few have made a lasting impression the way Ric Suggitt did. If you were to ask me to name someone who is ‘more than a coach,’ he would always be the first to come to mind because of the way he built relationships, the lessons he taught us, and the legacy he left.
One thing that everyone who has ever been coached by Ric can agree on—he loves nicknames. Just ask Shrek, Moustachio, the Ferret, or Bambi. Ric had some of his own of course—Sluggo to most people, Circus Bear to others. I preferred Ricky Bobby. It was one way that he connected with athletes. I also spent hours on end sitting in Ric’s office, so much so that he coined it ‘Jill’s Office’ and told Pronghorn Athletics’ staff that they should be changing the name plate by the door. He was happy to have an open door policy, welcoming athletes to come in, whether it was to watch game tape or X Factor auditions on youtube. Sometimes these casual visits would turn into hard conversations. He had a way of knowing you better than you know yourself, and wanted to work through it together.
With some unorthodox methods, Sluggo taught us many lessons. One was to treat everyone you encounter with respect. A lot of things go on behind the scenes for varsity athletes to be able to complete. From athletic therapists to the operations staff at stadiums to the custodians at the university, everyone plays a part and should be appreciated. He taught us to always treat people with kindness, saying hello and thank you for all of their efforts as you pass by in the hallway. This small moment has a lasting impact on our gratefulness and on the reputation of athletes and their teams.
He had a way of helping you laugh off little mistakes. With quotes like “that was shocking,” “you dropped that like you dropped your last boyfriend,” and “your mom tackles better than you,” he was able to lighten the mood and then help players reset for the next play. He taught us that when it comes to anything in life, you should always try to “be first.” Be the first person at practice, to each drill, to class, to say thank you. It teaches you to commit fully to everything you are doing, and to always try your best. Along those lines, he taught us that sometimes you have to think outside the box to get the work done. When southern Alberta winters moved our rugby practices inside, the gym was in high demand. Lo and behold, we were practicing at 6am, getting our workouts done in the late morning and afternoons instead. We also did some unusual workouts, like swimming laps at the pool in hoodies and sweatpants. This not only gave us a good workout, it taught us to stay calm under pressure to control our breathing. After all, “pressure is just the air around you and the air in your lungs.”
Ric encouraged girls to be involved and coach high school teams or volunteer when they could. He was a role model in this by attending high school practices as well, giving him the opportunity to scout a few players but also mentor some of the younger coaches. He registered and funded all of his players to be certified referees so they could assist in the local league and improve their rugby knowledge. On a road trip, he held a team meeting where he tested our knowledge of our teammates, asking questions about food and beverage preferences, boyfriends’ names, and other personal details that require you to really listen. It was eye-opening for us, and taught us a lesson on really getting to know your teammates, so that you can build stronger relationships and trust each other on the field.
Ric also loved to test us mentally. Whether it was switching your position in a big game or training you at a new position only to move you back, he developed our resilience and mental toughness by deliberately pushing our comfort zone. He personally taught me a lesson to expect the unexpected. When he says “Don’t worry, I won’t tackle you,” it doesn’t mean squat—he will, in fact, tackle you. All of these lessons changed us, and were part of the impact Ric had on our lives.
Sluggo left a lasting impression on most players, assistant coaches, trainers, and athletic therapists he worked with. He may never realize it, but he also left a legacy affecting thousands of others—including six very important ones. When Ric passed away in 2017, he became an organ donor. His donation went on to help save six people in need. At the time, Ric had been training some junior hockey players in their off-season. His influence had made a strong impact on one player in particular, Logan Boulet. Ric had inspired Logan to become an organ donor, and he made the effort to tell his friends and family that when he turned 21, he would be signing his donor card. Just four weeks after signing it, tragedy struck the Humboldt Broncos hockey team where Logan was playing when a semi-trailer collided with the bus carrying the team. Boulet was among the 16 killed by the crash. Due to the strength of his still-beating heart, he was able to donate his organs, just like his trainer Sluggo. Despite the pain of their loss, the Boulet family made Logan’s selflessness a lesson to Canadians. Within two months of his death, organ donation registration increased by an estimated 150,000.
Sluggo’s impact on Logan Boulet and organ donation is just one example of the legacy he left behind. He also left behind a legacy of kindness, commitment, and passion for the sport of rugby. I will never forget to work hard, but always play like a kid in the backyard, having fun. Ric Suggitt was a role model, teacher, mentor, friend, inspiration, and much more. Ric Suggitt was more than a coach.