Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Spring 2016 (April 13, 2016)

Robert Nicholls, aka ‘Coach Nick’

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April 6, 2016

[S16] In Remembrance, Robert Nicholls

Robert Nicholls, former athletic director, physical education instructor, and inspirational coach of multiple sports, died Nov. 26, 2015, in South Beloit, Ill., at age 91.

Known widely as “Coach Nick,” his Beloit tenure spanned from 1952 to 1995. In addition to teaching and advising, he coached football, men’s and women’s swimming, tennis, basketball, and wrestling and served as Beloit’s athletic director from 1965-76. When he was near retirement in the 1990s, the college estimated that Nicholls had coached more than 3,000 student athletes.

Bill Mack’58 played football for Coach Nick and later returned to Beloit to coach alongside him as offensive coordinator.

“He was really a rare person,” recalls Mack. “I’ve never heard anybody say a negative thing about him. And for someone who’s been a teacher and a coach for a half century, that’s unparalleled.”

As an undergraduate, Nicholls was an all-conference quarterback for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he also played basketball. However, he said swimming was his favorite sport to coach because he started with the least amount of experience. “I really had to work at it,” he once said.

But Mack and other alumni athletes who recall Coach Nick fondly, remember how meticulously he prepared them for games, scouting opposing teams and handing out a game report without fail on Monday morning.  

“Coach Nick’s record and successes as a coach were no accident. He was very well-prepared for everything he did,” Mack says. “He had so much on the ball that it almost doesn’t seem right to say he had a ‘low-key style,’ but he was one of those people who could direct a situation and be in control of it, yet be fair and honest in a way that got things done. He never raised his voice.”

A Michigan native, Nicholls served in the U.S. Army in the 17th Airborne Division as a paratrooper during World War II. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1973, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America honored him with a Master Coach Award. When he retired, Beloit established an endowed scholarship in Nicholls’ name, and he was inducted into Beloit’s Athletic Hall of Honor in 2001.

When Nicholls marked four decades of coaching at Beloit, he reflected that “Forty years of coaching here has meant 40 years of great associations with students, players, and faculty. I don’t feel I gave them 40 years. I feel they gave me 40.”

Nicholls is survived by two daughters, including Sharon Denu, who works in Beloit’s Accounting Office, five grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren. Memorials may be made to the Bob Nicholls Endowed Scholarship Fund.


  • April 21 2016 at 11:44 am
    Morganna Williams

    I am sure Timothy Weaver will miss both McAllister and Coach Nick. 

  • April 27 2016 at 8:20 am
    Mike Knapton '97

    Coach Bob Nicholls gave his professional life to Beloit. My father (Coach Knapton) and Bob were colleagues and friends over the years. I remember him at football games, basketball games and swim meets. I learned to swim in the Beloit College pool, and I feel blessed to have known Coach Nicholls and to be a part of Beloit College history.

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