Denton school district athletic director Ken Purcell is a man of detail and a man who requires order, a trait shared by many coaches across the state, no matter the sport.
Purcell has three boxes housing the shiny products of 41 years in high school athletics — three cherry-colored wooden boxes containing 11 oversized rings. Two of the boxes have four rings in them. The third box has room for another glistening artifact to commemorate Purcell’s career as a coach and administrator.
Purcell could pick up the final ring for the collection if Guyer defeats San Antonio Brennan in today’s Class 4A Division I state championship game at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
The 66-year-old has already submitted his paperwork and he will retire at the end of the month after being the district’s athletic director since July of 1997.
“It’s very hard,” Purcell said. “I’ve got one of the greatest jobs in Texas. I have athletic directors saying, ‘Why in the world would you leave?’ I said because I’m 66 years old, and I have cattle and horses and I want to spend more time with my grandkids and my beautiful wife.”
Since 1997, the district’s athletic programs have won seven state championships. Other rings in his collection include his championship ring when he was an assistant at Plano in 1977 and the ring for his induction into the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association’s Hall of Honor in 2009. Before he came to Denton, he was the head football coach at Allen for 13 years and was the athletic director for one year. He compiled a record of 83 wins and 41 losses while at Allen.
He carried over some of the skills he used as a head coach to help shift the way athletics was viewed in town.
“Coaching is being a salesman,” Purcell said. “You sell kids on their ability and their ability to do great things. I haven’t changed. I was trying to sell this community on the value of athletics and the great things it could do for our kids and our community.”
One of the first things he did was renovate Bronco Field. At that time, Ryan and Denton were both sharing the field, and Purcell said about the fourth game of the year one season, the grass had been churned into mud.
He asked the district administration if he could install turf at Bronco Field if he raised the funds, and the administration said yes. He went out and signed Coca-Cola to a 15-year contract worth $3.4 million, with $1.2 million coming up front in cash. Bronco Field changed from the color of dirt to the color of cash.
“He’s just been an advocate for athletics,” Ryan head coach Joey Florence said. “I think that’s his biggest attribute. He understands athletics, and he’s been our voice and our advocate for athletics.”
Purcell grew up in Vega, a miniscule town located on Interstate 40, about halfway between Amarillo and the Texas-New Mexico border. Growing up, the son of a firefighter either wanted to be a ranch cowboy or a football coach. Fortunately, he said, he became a football coach.
And fortunately for Denton, he became the district’s athletic director.
“I think coach Purcell really added a lot of value to athletics within our community, and really helped put Denton ISD on the map by working to bring in good head coaches and working with our community to support that area of our kids’ education,” Denton Superintendent Jamie Wilson said.
Under Purcell, the district raised the remaining money to fund C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, which was built in 2005. Purcell’s office overlooks the north end zone of the football field at C.H. Collins.
He usually comes in a couple of hours before everybody else and before the sun rises over the stadium, with a drink from Sonic in his hand. He’ll hang his Resistol hat on its rightful hook, set down his briefcase and get to work.
Martha Crep, who’s been the district’s secretary of athletics for the past 14 years, said Purcell will easily notice if anything on his desk or in his office has been moved.
Over the last three years or so, Purcell has tabled leaving his current position and spending time with his horses in Aubrey or working on the Nocona cattle ranch in which he’s a partner. Crep said she’s going to miss her current boss, who has taught her many things beyond athletics.
“It’s going to be hard,” Crep said. “Probably more than anything, I’m going to be able to miss going in and being able to sit down and not just talk about work, but just talk and just visit.”
Purcell said he joked with Wilson about going to today’s game as the athletic director and leaving as the former athletic director.
His main task after this weekend will be cleaning out his office and preparing it for the incoming athletic director, who Wilson said should be nominated by the school board at a meeting on Jan. 21, 2014.
But even after Purcell’s last official day, he’ll have some extra time to box up his belongings. After 17 years, it’s hard not to give him a little leeway.
“I’m not coming up here on New Year’s Day to take his keys,” Wilson said.
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.