By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports
There is an old adage in football that says: "Players win games and coaches lose them."
That philosophy was obviously coined by some disgruntled sportswriter who never coached or played a minute of organized sports in his life.
Regardless of where the saying originated, it seems as though the football world has taken it to heart.
If a football team is extremely superior to that of its opponents for an extended period of time, the success is usually credited to superior athletes and execution on the field of play.
However, if a team is consistently losing, the responsibility is usually piled on the shoulders of the head coach. It also means the coach isn't going to have a job much longer no matter what type of athletes, or lack of, he has or how well those athletes execute a given gameplan.
Even this non-disgruntled sportswriter will admit that on certain occasions I have placed far too much blame on coaches during losses and credited players far too much in wins. I have criticized, complained and second-guessed coaches' decisions and even said some needed to be fired.
But in two years, not once, did I do any of those things with Havre High head football coach Troy Purcell. Despite the fact that the Ponies fell just short of winning a state championship in 2002, and were recently put out of the 2003 state title picture by their nemesis - the Miles City Cowboys - I think it is time that everyone takes a little closer look at what Purcell has done for the HHS football program.
In four seasons, Purcell has taken Havre to the playoffs three times. He went on a major playoff run last season that culminated with the first state championship game to be played in Havre in several years.
Even with the loss of most of the skill players from last season's team, Purcell reloaded the Ponies this year and won 10 games.
Still, it is obvious that winning 10 games isn't enough for Purcell or his players. Their goal was to capture a state title this season and unfortunately that didn't happen. But you can't argue with the success over the last four seasons. All Purcell has done is win football games.
What makes it remarkable is that winning at the high school level isn't easy to do. Graduation takes players away from you, people move and kids take up different interests in life. You never know what you're going to have for personnel from season to season. This isn't college, there is no recruiting.
But through all of that, Purcell has managed to keep winning. He did it in his first head coaching job in Oregon and he did it at Eureka High School after that and now he is doing it in Havre.
And while winning may seem like it has become the most important thing in high school football, it shouldn't the ONLY thing. Purcell manages to win with class, and on the rare occasion - lose with dignity.
After any loss, he is the first person that will tell me what he should have done differently to put his team in a better position to win. He is also the first to give credit to the opposition when it is warranted as he did in the case of the Miles City game last Saturday.
There is also the little matter of respect when it comes to a good coach. It's a word that is used often when you talk about a Purcell-coached football team. He earns the respect of his players, and he in turn gives them respect.
Just before the playoffs began last season, I did an interview with former Havre High standout quarterback Justin Kegel. He couldn't stress enough the respect players had for Purcell and how much they want to play for him. Indeed, Purcell is what you call a players' coach.
Over the last two seasons, I have observed his relationship with his players and I have seen them respond positively to every situation that they are confronted with. Whether is is giving them a pat on their backs, or trying to correct a mistake, Purcell's players listen and respond to what he is saying. But most importantly, they seem to learn from what he is trying to teach them.
However, Purcell would never take sole credit for the program success. He is continuously praising the efforts of his assistant coaches. He makes sure each assistant knows they are an integral part of the Blue Pony formula for success. Purcell's assistants have a lot of autonomy, which is rare in the high school coaching ranks.
While it has never been discussed, I would probably go out on a limb and say that Purcell wants to continue to climb the football coaching ladder. It is obvious that he is a pure football guy and absolutely loves what he does.
No one in this community is self-centered enough to believe that Havre is the mountain top of coaching positions. He is young, talented and innovative and that will probably carry him down a much bigger path than Class A football eventually.
Selfishly, I would love to see Purcell make Havre a permanent stop. Mainly, because I know that he will get his state championship sooner rather than later. I only hope that he is the Blue Pony head coach when he does.
But it's more than football, Purcell is an educator. He educates kids about life, team work and sportsmanship.
If I am lucky enough to have a son one day that plays football, I can only hope that he has the good fortune of playing for someone like Purcell. And to those of you that have had, or do have, sons playing for him, I hope you understand that your son will be a better person, not just a better football player, because of Purcell.
I also hope that the community of Havre and the students of Havre High realize how fortunate we all are for having Purcell at present time. Unfortunately, the more his teams win, the more we will take it for granted. It is the nature of the beast. Hopefully, we will all sit back and appreciate what Purcell, his coaching staff and his players do each and every fall and continue to enjoy and support their efforts.
Because as the saying goes - players win and coaches lose - and the way Troy Purcell's teams keep winning, we may not have the privilege of calling him our head coach much longer.