Russ Purnell was named the Jaguars' special teams coordinator on January 24, and the 37-year coaching veteran has spent the first six months on the job getting to know the players and the city. Purnell, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has coached six special teams players who earned Pro Bowl honors in his career. He spent the past seven seasons in the same capacity for the Indianapolis Colts under Tony Dungy.
Purnell sat down with jaguars.com this week to discuss his coaching career, his familiarity with the Jaguars coaching staff and how special teams have changed the past 23 years.
You are entering your 38th season as a coach and your 24th in the NFL. What drives you to keep going after all these years?
"Well, I am a pretty competitive guy. I like to win and enjoy the feeling of winning. That is what keeps me going. The great thing about this job is you get an opportunity for six months a year to compete with your team against someone else. It's tough to beat that feeling."
*Can you even picture yourself not coaching? *
"I don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't coaching. I taught high school for 10 years and enjoyed doing it, but I was coaching the whole time I was there as well. I think my wife enjoys having me out of the house for six months out of the year so I'm not wearing her out. She enjoys the coaching lifestyle. The moves aren't easy but the fact is that for 24 years she has had the opportunity to live in a number of great locations across the country. She has made a lot of friends."
*You are one of only 21 NFL coaches to win a Super Bowl with more than one team. You did it with Indianapolis in 2006 and Baltimore in 2000. Is that part of what makes you keep going? *
"That is certainly the biggest part. It would be nice to get the opportunity to do it again before I'm all done. It's fantastic. You are on cloud nine for a long, long time, enjoying that victory. People don't let you forget it whether it's your neighbors, relatives, friends or people you run into at the grocery store. Everyone that knows you is calling you to congratulate you. You don't forget about that great moment in your life."
You were on the same staff with Jack Del Rio in Baltimore from 1999-2001. That was a pretty impressive coaching staff with Brian Billick, Mike Nolan, Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan and Mike Smith. Of course, the team in 2000 wasn't bad either.
"First of all, when you look at that coaching staff, there are a lot of guys that have become head coaches. It's a credit to Brian (Billick) and the people that he brought in there. Secondly, that team really came out of nowhere in 2000. The defense just got better and better and the offense did exactly what they had to do to win games. We had one stretch where we didn't score an offensive touchdown for five weeks and we managed to win two of those games."
You had the opportunity to coach four current coaches on the Jaguars staff. You had Jack Del Rio (1982-84) and Kennedy Pola (1982-85) at USC and Mike Tice (1986-88) and Andy Heck at Seattle (1989-93). Give me a scouting report on those guys beginning with Kennedy.
"Kennedy could play linebacker or fullback. He did both in his USC days. In that I-formation, you better have someone knock that linebacker out of the way when they're playing 3-4 defense or you are running pitch and he's got to lead that guy around the corner. He has to be a great blocker because somebody is going to be coming at him full-speed whether it be a strong safety or a linebacker. You have to be a guy that starts blocking on the first play and keep it up the whole game. Kennedy was that guy and he did it very well."
"He was absolutely a character then and a pleasure to coach. He's a fun-loving guy but when it was time to work no one worked any harder. He worked hard on his skills. About once a week he would stick his head in my office and ask me to bring him a new notebook and a couple pens because he wrote everything down. He was a meticulous note taker. I wasn't surprised a bit he got into coaching."
When did you first meet Coach Del Rio?
"He had just finished his freshman year at USC when I got there. Jack had a fantastic reputation as a high school player. I had heard about him. He was from the northern part in Hayward and I was down in Orange County coaching high school. You knew about Jack Del Rio. I had followed USC before I went to coach there and I knew what kind of player he was. Very intense, focused, and physical football player."
Finally, Andy Heck?
"Andy was very professional. He had only been a tackle one year at Notre Dame. He had been a tight end for three years so he was learning the position. He came in and worked very hard at becoming a great left tackle, playing a position that is very difficult to play and he did it very well."
*How has the play of special teams evolved over the years? *
"There is more of an emphasis. When I first started in the league, on most teams the guy who coached special teams also coached another position. When I went to Seattle, Rusty Tillman coached tight ends and special teams. Then I took over special teams and also coached tight ends. Now some teams have two guys that their main job description is helping on special teams."
There has been a trend over the years to have special teams-only practices and certain portions of every practice are devoted to only special teams. When did this start?
"That started when they made the roster restrictions. In the old days, you could go to camp with unlimited numbers. Most teams were between 100 and 120 players in training camp. Once they lowered the roster size to 80 you had to take care of your guys. One of the ways to do that is to get all the work you need offensively and defensively and then you focus on special teams for one hour. You get those big linemen off their feet for the most part and let them do some weightlifting. That is something that has developed out of necessity."
Do you feel like you came into a good situation in Jacksonville with the current special teams unit?
"Absolutely. I know Jack (Del Rio) understands the importance of special teams, the time, energy and personnel to give us every opportunity to be successful."
*Have you coached in every NFL stadium? *
"I haven't coached in the new Arizona stadium yet. That is the only stadium right now that I think I have never been in."
*You have been involved in the AFC South since the beginning as an assistant with the Colts. What do you think about the division? *
"Very competitive and very balanced. It's one of the toughest special teams divisions in the NFL; all the specialists and the core players and coaching."
*The coaches are off for nearly a month to relax and get rejuvenated for the upcoming season. Any special plans? *
"I will play some golf. I will definitely enjoy the beach. There are not many beaches close to Indianapolis."