By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
With rumors running rampant on the Montana State University-Northern campus and around the community of Havre concerning the head coaching vacancy in the Lights football program, Northern Athletics Director Byron Ophus has to keep himself from chuckling a little.
Contrary to some reports, Northern has not hired a replacement for the recently retired Walt Currie and probably won't do so until the first of the year.
"There is always going to be things like that going around," Ophus said. "We haven't hired anybody yet. We're still in the process of collecting applications."
Ophus joked that as far as rumors go, recently fired Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves, fired Nebraska coach Frank Solich and ex-Washington State coach Mike Price might as well be added to the possible candidate list.
"Now those would be some rumors to start," he joked.
In all seriousness, there has been much speculation that current Havre High football coach Troy Purcell has already been hired as Currie's replacement.
Both Ophus and Purcell denied the speculation.
"They haven't hired anyone for the job as far as I know," Purcell said.
While Purcell doesn't have the job yet, he is one of the dozen or so applicants that Ophus has received resumes from.
"We have at least a dozen formal resumes and I've talked with at least six other candidates who are going to send theirs in," Ophus said.
Although Ophus did confirm Purcell is an applicant, he would not identify any of the other people who have applied.
"I will say that there are some very successful high school coaches that have applied with names that people would recognize," Ophus said. "We even had a former Arena League football head coach apply as well."
The hiring process is far from over, according to Ophus.
Pursuant to Northern hiring policy for permanent jobs, Ophus must run a statewide advertisement for the vacancy in major newspapers and through the NAIA.
Chancellor Alex Capdeville said Northern will follow all the rules governing hiring practices and accept applications until the position is filled, but admitted that time is definitely a factor.
"We'd like to get the position filled as soon as possible," Capdeville said.
Ophus said the ad will run for about a week, which would probably attract several more candidates.
During that time, he will form a selection committee to help wade through the applications and resumes to narrow them down to a group of no more than five finalists.
The selection committee will consist of five people, including a student-athlete representative from the football team.
Local businessman Mike Tilleman has already been a valuable resource to Ophus in the early stages of the process, Ophus said. Tilleman was one of the members of the original selection committee that brought Currie in as the first Northern coach when the football program was resurrected in 1998.
Ophus said Tilleman will be a member of the new selection committee along with faculty-athletics representative Carol Reifschneider.
"I have had a few other people express interest in being part of the process," Ophus said. "I think five would be the perfect number for a committee. I want to have it selected by the end of next week so we can start going though these candidates."
The student-athlete representative is a tougher situation. Because much of this process will occur during Northern's Christmas break, it will have to be a player who will be around during the break. Ophus met with the football team Wednesday and said that three players who live in Havre have volunteered to be on the committee. Ophus will choose from offensive lineman Mike Schnittgen, linebacker David Knight and defensive lineman Matt Sasaki as his student-athlete rep.
"We'll probably just draw out of a hat from those three," Ophus said. "It's important that they're available over the break and it's also good that they are from Havre because they know something about the community."
With the recruiting season in full swing, Ophus admitted he's up against a time table.
"Rocky got the process done in four weeks," Ophus said. "We want to get it done in the same amount of time, if not sooner."
Once the selection committee starts going through the applications, Ophus said, his goal is to have five finalists by Dec. 22 and begin the interview process.
As for what he and the committee will look for in applicants, Ophus said the coaching experience, background checks and coaching success will be noted. But he's also looking for just a little more.
"Obviously, we are looking for someone that can bring the program up to competing for the conference title," Ophus said. "But I am also looking for someone that brings high standards and expectations for not only himself but his players, both on the field and off. Someone who measures success on the field and off, not just in wins but in things like grade-point average and graduation."
Ophus said he isn't in the position to look just at short-term success.
"Coaches all come in talking win, win, win," Ophus said. "My job is to find a coach with high standards that is going to look for success in the long term."