“I am not afraid.”
This is what Army West Point assistant football coach Tucker Waugh had to say after making it public that he has Parkinson’s disease earlier this month.
“I consider myself one of the luckiest men in the world,” Waugh said. “I am releasing this information solely because my symptoms are becoming more noticeable and have resulted in inquiries regarding my health.”
The slotbacks coach and recruiting coordinator is attacking it head on, though, and not letting it affect him as a coach, mentor, father or husband.
Embarking on his 17th year on the coaching staff at West Point, Waugh is revealing the battle he has been undertaking off the field for a few years now.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms tend to generally develop slowly over years. The progression of symptoms is often a bit different from one person to another though due to the diversity of the disease.
Parkinson’s has by no means affected Waugh and his ability to coach and inspire the players, coaches and others around him here at the Academy.
“When you see me, know that my left hand may shake, but my resolve is steadfast to attack this condition with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” he said.
Waugh has not missed any time on the practice field or up in the booth during games over the past couple of seasons. He has helped Army achieve some incredible feats the past two years, and has coached and recruited some of the top players to ever put on the Black and Gold uniform.
He was a key member of an offensive staff that guided the 2017 Black Knights to the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision charts in rushing yards by averaging 362.3 yards per game. Army led the country in total rushing yards with 4,710 on the season and broke its 2016 rushing touchdown record with 50.
Army head coach Jeff Monken praised Waugh for his commitment to his team, coaching staff and the Academy.
When asked if he thought it would slow Waugh down as a coach, his response was simple.
It has not affected his energy, passion, or ability to do his job.
“He may feel at times that it changes the way he coaches or approaches his job, but in terms of his effectiveness, there has been no change,” Monken said. “And that is just an unbelievable credit to his mental toughness, resilience and dedication to this profession.”
The players he has coached over the past few years agree with their head coach. Waugh is a hardworking mentor that has a spirit and love for the game. This condition hasn’t slowed him down.
“Very hardworking, very selfless,” rising junior Kell Walker said of his position coach. “He is a guy that does anything for his players. Not only on the field, but off the field as well. If I am having a tough time and I need to talk to someone, he always tells me to call him at anytime.”
When he shared with his players about how it could affect him and how it could affect his family, he never complained about it. He never mentioned to them that it was a disability. It is something that he has and that he is going to have to roll with. He is going to be the same coach and mentor either way.
“He has a great attitude about it so that makes us as a group have a positive attitude about it,” Walker added.
Rising sophomore Fred Cooper has benefited from having Waugh as his slotback coach more than most.
“He is a father figure for me,” Cooper said. “I don’t have a father in my life, so he plays a big role. He makes sure he is around to keep me up and motivated. If I am having a bad day, he makes it better and is around me a lot.
“He talks about hard work and doing everything full speed. That definitely wasn’t a part of my workout plan, but now being in this program and learning under him, everything is full speed and everything I do is with full effort. I can truly say that I do that because of him.”
Walker and Cooper have been one of many that have learned from Waugh, and they all agree that Parkinson’s has not slowed him down.
“If anything he has sped up,” rising senior Jordan Asberry commented. “He hasn’t slowed down and has kept his energy up. That in turn keeps our energy up, and I think he is handling it really well.”
Monken, who competed against Waugh many times on the recruiting trail while at another academy, always saw him as a professional. They may have butted heads during those years, but Monken never felt spite toward him and always thought he was a good guy who did it the right way.
“His integrity is unquestionable, and he has impeccable character and integrity,” Monken said. “He respects our players and respects protocol. He understands his role as good as anybody on our staff as well as the place of each coach and each member of the organization.”
Coaching has been a love of Waugh’s for as long as he can remember. His dad was a coach and his brothers are coaches. He has a real passion to coach, especially here at the Academy.
“I think he loves being a coach. His dad was a coach, his brothers are coaches, his family is a lot like mine,” Monken added. “We have a real passion for this profession, and he is just an outstanding coach. He’s one of our best coaches here at the Academy and is just one of the best guys I’ve ever been around.”
Waugh’s top support group in his battle has been his family. His wife, Jen, and their two sons Jackson and Nick, have been there for him since day one.
“I think his Parkinson’s diagnosis has only made his work ethic even stronger,” Jen said. “I feel as though he wants to prove to himself that this disease is not going to beat him. He’s very determined that it’s not going to take away from how he coaches and how he does his job. It makes me so happy to see that his passion for coaching has not changed, but rather increased, because of Parkinson’s.”
Waugh is also part of the larger West Point community.
“Tucker, Jen, Jackson and Nick are valued members of the West Point community,” Army West Point Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan said. “I admire Tucker and his commitment to coaching. He has a true passion of mentoring young men to become great leaders.”
On many nights during the season after practice you will see Waugh working on throwing, catching and route running with Jackson and Nick. His family has been on road trips, enjoyed wins over Navy and celebrated bowl victories in Texas. He has been blessed to have them along for the journey as he battles Parkinson’s.
“I am just so proud of him for how he has handled himself after learning of his diagnosis,” Jen added. “I am constantly humbled by him. He rarely complains and is so set on not letting the disease get the best of him. I can’t adequately put into words how proud it makes me to see him out on the field continuing to do what he loves to do.”
This spring, Waugh has been back out on the practice field with the Black Knights.
As Walker described, “He is still the same Coach Waugh that I’ve always known. He comes out here and is hardworking as the same guy, even in mat drills. He is mean, loving and caring. The same guy.”
That same coach is helping to prepare the team for their upcoming Black and Gold Game set for Friday night.
The support system Waugh has at West Point is second to none.
“Parkinson’s is a serious diagnosis, but I am not afraid,” Waugh said. “For I have a wonderful family, and the people that surround me everyday are the national champions of toughness.”