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Archive for Tuesday, April 27, 1999

PURDY ABLE TO MAINTAIN LHS TRADITION

April 27, 1999

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Shortly after being hired as Lawrence High football coach in 1990, Dick Purdy boldly told his coaching staff it was time for a switch.

"I had the idea to change the helmet," he recalled while announcing his retirement on Monday.

Those were fightin' words. The Lion coaches, many of them former LHS players, rolled their eyes in disbelief. How dare anyone tinker with the tradition-rich black helmet and white stripe.

Current Free State High head coach Bob Lisher, an LHS alum, was a member of Purdy's first Lions' coaching staff and led the outcry.

"'You change the helmet, you'll have an immediate meeting with the Lawrence High alumni association,'" Lisher recalled telling his new boss.

So Purdy decided to, "nix that idea really fast."

Other than flirting with changing the helmet, Purdy embraced the LHS tradition.

On the heels of a state championship in 1989 under Bill Freeman, Purdy took over the Lions and won four Class 6A titles in a row, including five in his first six years, and finished with 84 victories in nine years at LHS.

Like he said when was named LHS coach on April 17, 1990, Purdy's challenge of the program was "to maintain it."

Lisher soon realized Purdy would adjust to the Lion ways.

"Anybody with his credentials, work ethic, success and records was going to fit in," Lisher said. "There was no question."

Like Lisher, LHS assistant Jerry Skakal coached with Purdy, and against him.

"I've certainly enjoyed working with him a lot better than coaching against him," said Skakal, who endured some lopsided losses to LHS while at Topeka. "The results were a lot better when I was with him."

Purdy gushed about his assistants on Monday. The aides, in turn, said they enjoyed working under Purdy because he allowed them to offer ideas.

"You were expected to have ideas and if you could prove your point, it would be used," Skakal said. "It's like every Friday night you had a test and that's your evaluation. You want the kids you coach to do their part.

"You never felt bad about working hard. You could call him any time day or night."

Scott McMichael played under Purdy at Shawnee Mission West in the early 1970s and his son, Bryce, will be a senior quarterback at LHS this fall. Scott said Purdy's coaching style hadn't changed in a generation.

"He obviously touched a lot of lives, starting with Chetopa, and he was at Shawnee Mission West many, many years," Scott said. "He was good for the game, a tough, hard-nosed guy. All the players who played for him were better off and all former players respect him.

"The hard-nosed discipline always was his forte. It still holds true today. Obviously I believe football is still the ultimate team game. You have to have everybody on the same page and it requires a lot of discipline."

Purdy could have retired on top following Lawrence's 1995 state championship season. But he waited and witnessed the transition of Lawrence becoming a two-high school city.

The makeup of football changed dramatically in Lawrence with the addition of a new school. Free State opened its doors in 1997 and LHS was no longer the biggest school in the state, cutting the Lions' roster in half.

"I have noticed a change over the last two years," Purdy said. "It's not that people have treated us badly or anything, but we have lost a little bit in the community concept."

The Lions finished 5-5 in Purdy's final season and qualified for a state playoffs with a 28-24 victory over favored Free State. No one thought LHS would finish .500.

"My definition (of success) has always been to win more game than you're capable of winning," Purdy said. "If you're capable of winning two, find a way to win three."

Purdy coached for 41 years, yet he seemed impervious to burnout. The combination of turning 65, losing his weight lifting class and his wife's impending retirement figured in the timing of his decision.

"I listened to a lot of guys," Purdy said on knowing when it's time to retire. "Some have stayed too long and some didn't stay long enough."

-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone message number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is srottinghaus@ljworld.com

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