The look on the players' faces said it all. It's a look of total bewilderment and complete helplessness. At a time when you're supposed to be invincible, you're suddenly vulnerable. It's a nauseating feeling.
I know the feeling, because I once made that face before.
Many years, many Poison records and many bad silk shirts ago, I was in the same place that the juniors of the Havre High football team are in. I was a player without a coach.
I was sitting in a room surrounded by teammates with my uneventful football career in disarray. Our head coach Butch Damberger had gathered all the returning players in a room to inform us that he was leaving Havre High to take a assistant coaching position at Montana State.
There had been talk about him leaving. But hey, it was Havre. There's always talk. You can't get up and go the bathroom without someone starting a rumor about what or where you went.
Even though we all pretty much knew it was coming, I really was still in a bit of a shock.
Mind you, I wasn't a starter as a junior. I played about a total of a quarter per game - you know special teams, certain defenses and occasionally a few rotations at wide receiver.
I wasn't quite a 30-point player - where you got in when you were either up 30 or down 30 - I was more of a 20-point player.
Still, I was devastated at the time. Why? Why be so upset about a coach leaving? It wasn't as if they were ending the program. There would still be a team, it would just have a different man leading it.
But it's not that simple.
To people who have never played football, it shouldn't mean that much. But people who have played the game understand the emotional investment you put into the game, to a team and to a coach.
There is no other sport where so much preparation goes into so little competition. There are hours upon hours of weekly preparation for two hours of game time.
Like him or hate him, you have to give a part of yourself to the head coach because he's the one directing all this preparation and calling the shots in the game. You put your trust in him that he's teaching the right techniques and planning the right strategy to achieve success.
Regardless, if you wanted to be high-fiving your coach after the game, or you wanted to hit him with your helmet, there is still an attachment. You get emotionally involved. But that attachment can end at any moment, like it did on Thursday.
I guess you could liken it to being dumped by your girlfriend. Unfortunately, the concept of a girlfriend to me at that time was nonexistent. Yes, I know it's sad.
But I had friends who were dumped by girls in high school, and it was a similar circumstance.
You invest your time, heart and energy into the situation, and it suddenly ends. There is nothing you can do about it.
If you follow that theory, then you have to feel the worst for the juniors, because they have more invested than the sophomores and freshmen. It's amplified. It's like getting dumped, only on the night of the prom - all that time and expense is gone. And no, I don't know anything about that either.
For the juniors it's the end of a three-year relationship. Three years may not seem long to us, but in high school, it's an eternity. Hell, seventh period U.S. Government class seemed so long at the time that I actually grew a whisker in it.
Three years is even longer when it comes to a high school sports career, because it's three-fourths of it. And that's what was frustrating for me at the time and for the juniors now - you only have one year left.
For most juniors, particularly this year's class, their senior year was their time to shine on the field. After waiting patiently for their turn to have their name announced as a starter at Blue Pony Stadium, it's now all totally up in the air.
There are no guarantees in this situation. There is no guarantee that the new coach will like you. There is no guarantee that his philosophies will match your talents. There is no guarantee you are going to play, let alone make the starting lineup.
Everybody tries to make it better by saying, "You get a fresh start." But a fresh start isn't always a good thing. In fact, it's a terrible thing in this situation. If you were poised to play under the old coach, you don't need a fresh start. They're for the people who weren't going to play.
A new coach brings possibilities of the future, but are you supposed to just forget the past? What about everything you did in the past to get yourself on the field? What about the hours in the weight room to add 10 pounds of muscle? What about the constant working out that cut off the five pounds of baby fat? What about all those freshman and JV games it took for you to finally remember the offense and understand the defense?
At least in my situation, the entire coaching staff of assistants returned for my senior season. The current coaching staff has already lost two assistants and could be on the verge of losing two more.
The program isn't rudderless, but it's kind of floating for a while, in search of a new captain.
Yet, for as bad as I felt that day, I didn't hate my coach. I wasn't mad that he was leaving. You have to be realistic. As much as you want a coach to stay in one place, if he's successful there's a good chance he's moving up to a higher level at some point, unless he's coaching the New England Patriots.
And in the same way, as mad as the returning players are right now, they have to realize that this was an opportunity that Troy Purcell simply couldn't pass up. You don't walk away from opportunities like this, especially when it has been your goal to coach at that level all along. It's been a good five-year run for Purcell. I'll be the first to admit, Havre was lucky to have him that long.
Still, for the returning players on the Havre High football team there is little solace right now. Their football future most likely is in the hands of someone they've never met. But trust in the system. Havre's program has reached the level where it will bring in a solid coach that will carry on the Ponies' football success.
So going by my theory: It's better to be dumped by the prettiest girl, than never to be dumped at all. There will be other girls, and other coaches, even for people like me.
Maybe it was the Poison albums and the silk shirts.