Havre Daily News sports editor
The coach who brought Havre High School its first state football championship in 34 years is leaving after the historic season.
HHS head coach Troy Purcell has been offered the head coaching position at Bozeman High School and accepted Thursday morning, replacing 10-year head coach Bill Walker, who resigned after the past season.
Purcell hasn't officially been hired in Bozeman or resigned his post at Havre High.
He was recommended by Bozeman athletics director Randy Russell to the Bozeman school board, which will vote on whether to hire him at a May 10 meeting. Similarly, Purcell has submitted a verbal resignation to Havre High, but his formal, written resignation wouldn't go into effect until the Havre school board's next meeting, also on May 10.
Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Purcell will be pacing the Hawks' sidelines next fall. He said it was an opportunity he simply couldn't pass up.
"The opportunity arrived and I had to take it," Purcell said. "My goal when I started coaching was to get up into coaching AA. There are only 13 AA jobs and they don't come open every day. If the situation is there to reach a goal, you have to take that job."
Purcell came close to making the step into the Class AA ranks a year ago. He was a finalist and widely considered the favorite for the vacant head coaching job at Helena Capital, which opened after Mark Samson took the head coaching position at Montana State University-Northern.
However, complications concerning lack of a physical education teaching position for Purcell arose. Capital went in a different direction and Purcell stayed in Havre for the 2004 season.
It ended up being a fortuitous turn of events for him.
While Capital finished with a 5-6 record, Purcell and the Ponies embarked on a magical run of 12 straight victories, capped with a 34-21 state championship win over Billings Central at a packed Blue Pony Stadium.
Although the euphoria of this year's magical title run still lingers in the school and community, it has dampened a little with the news Purcell is leaving, particularly among returning players. He met with them Thursday afternoon to tell them of his decision.
"There were some mixed responses and emotions," he said. "I feel in their hearts that if it's an opportunity I want to reach in my career, then they're happy for me that way. At the same time, they were upset to see me leave."
'He's the man'
"I wasn't surprised that he got the job," said junior receiver Scott Miller. "He's a good coach. And I knew he wouldn't turn it down if it was offered. Everyone pretty much knew it was coming when we got to the meeting."
As realistic as Miller and his teammates were, it still was not easy to see their football coach leave on the brink of their senior year.
"I was still a little upset," Miller said. "He's the man. He's been our coach since we started."
While Miller worries about who will replace Purcell and what type of offense that coach will bring, he does understand Purcell's decision.
"I fully support his decision to move up," he said. "I understand that it's a good opportunity. I think we all did."
Purcell's excitement of landing the new job was also tempered a little because of the meeting.
"I have mixed emotions too," he said. "Gosh, you look at those kids, and I've been with them four years, and you know everything about them and have become close to them."
The one thing he wanted to impress upon them was that winning the title and the loss of 21 seniors from that championship squad weren't factors in his leaving.
"It's not that we won a state championship and the well is dry so it's time to get the heck out of here," Purcell said. "The opportunity arose last year with Capital. And it arose this year with Bozeman."
In his five years with Havre, Purcell's program was a model of consistency and success. He compiled a record of 40-13 in that time, while making the playoffs four out of the five years, including two semifinal appearances, a runner-up appearance in 2002 and this year's title.
"Troy's strong point that he brought to a program is that he's a very good motivator," said HHS athletics director Dennis Murphy. "He's very good at getting his kids to believe they can be successful and getting young kids to play at a higher level."
Murphy used the state championship team as the quintessential example.
"Look at this year's team," he said. "We didn't have a bunch of Division I players on there. We had good kids that played together and played above of what they should have. That's a credit to Troy and his staff."
Even before last year's flirtation with the Capital job, Murphy knew that Purcell wouldn't be around forever.
"Troy had aspirations of moving up in coaching even before he came here," Murphy said. "I was a coach for a long time, and I understand that as a coach, you are always looking for opportunities."
Now, Murphy will be the one looking, as HHS begins the process of finding Purcell's replacement.
"We'll go through the hiring process like any district does things," he said. "We have a plan in place and will go from there."
Although officially Purcell is the head coach until May 10, the job will be listed as open for applicants starting on Monday. As part of the hiring, the district also would like to fill a teaching position. The policy of looking for a teacher first and coach second is common throughout the state. But it wouldn't be cause for dismissing an applicant.
"Obviously, we would like them to be a teacher," he said. "But that doesn't mean we won't look at someone if they are not. We have coaches on staff now that don't teach in our school system."
Although he wouldn't speculate how many applicants he will get, he did figure to field plenty of phone calls.
"We'll get a lot of inquiries, a lot more than applicants," he said. "There should be some interest because I feel this is one of the premier coaching jobs in Class A."
Murphy said there is no timeline as to when a new coach will be in place. But he admitted that he would like to name a head coach relatively soon.
"The longer you wait, the tougher it is on a program," he said. "But we aren't going to rush into it and hire the first coach that applies. We want to find the right candidate that will continue Havre's tradition of football excellence."
While Murphy looks to find a coach to maintain Havre's long run of football success, Purcell was just proud to be a part of it.
"I just can't thank all the kids, parents, community and administration enough," he said. "They're a big reason why leaving this place will be so tough. Havre is great place and my family and I really enjoy it here."