Knapp happy to have Purtill on Wesley staff

Wesley College offensive coordinator Jim Purtill signals for the offensive line to move down to the other end of the field during practice Wednesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Jim Purtill didn’t know any of his players when he was hired as Cornell’s freshman football coach in 1983.

He remembers looking down the roster and seeing the names of players from all over he country.

Then Purtill noticed there was a kid from Kent, Ohio, named Chip Knapp on the list.

Jim Purtill

“That’s where I’m from,” said Purtill. “There he was.”

The two had actually crossed paths a few years earlier when Purtill was a junior high coach in Ohio and Knapp was an eighth-grade quarterback. But they really got to know each other when they spent five seasons together at Cornell.

“He wasn’t a superstar by any means,” Purtill recalled about Knapp. “But he had very good skills and he started some games. His work ethic, his attitude and his intelligence were definitely above average.”

So the fact that, more than three decades later, Knapp and Purtill are working together again isn’t surprising. But it is fairly remarkable.

Over the summer, Knapp hired Purtill as Wesley College’s offensive coordinator. The 64-year-old Purtill has been a successful head coach in his own right, going 130-30 with 11 NCAA Division III playoff appearances at St. Norbert College between 1999 and 2013.

Those numbers earned Purtill a spot in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

The fact that Purtill has also given Knapp some really helpful offensive advice over the years isn’t on his resume. But it has earned Knapp’s respect.

Wolverine head coach Chip Knapp watching his team practice from the sidelines. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“Over the years, he’s been one of the best X and O’s guys that I’ve ever known,” said Knapp. “A lot of what we’ve done over the years on offense is influenced by him. I’d call him sometimes asking him for ideas or suggestions. He’s had his fingerprints on our offense over the years.

“He’s helped us win games. A couple conversations on a Sunday night has led to ideas. … His knowledge of the game of football goes beyond anybody I know.”

In 2012, a Sunday-night suggestion from Purtill helped spark the Wolverines’ 56-6 rout of Cortland State in the Division III playoffs.

“His idea was critical in our game plan,” said Knapp. “It worked like I’ve never seen anything before. Indirectly, he’s played a pretty important role over the years on the Wesley program.”

Ironically, it was Purtill who first told Knapp about Wesley.

By 1987, Knapp was a grad assistant coach at Cornell. He remembers Purtill spreading out a map and telling him what a great opportunity the small Dover school could be for someone.

“He pulled out a protractor and circled out a two-hour radius around Dover, Delaware,” Knapp recalled. “He told me, ‘This place is going to be a gold mine.’ He went though all the positives of Wesley College — the location, the only Division III school in the state. … That’s the kind of mind he has. He recognized it.”

Now the whole thing has come full circle.

Knapp is in his 31st season of coaching at Wesley. On the other hand, Purtill said this is the 13th different program where he’s coached.

Purtill has worked at Division I programs like BYU, Washington, Kent State and Buffalo. In 1996, when he was at Albion, he was named the National Offensive Coordinator of the Year.

In a 21-year stretch in which he worked at Albion, St. Norbert and UW-Oshkosh, Purtill’s offenses averaged 36 points per game.

While he admits that he did get fired from a coaching job or two, mostly he said he’s moved so much because he’s wanted to.

“I enjoy coaching,” said Purtill. “I enjoy being around good people that want to do the right thing and they want to be successful. … If I can go to work each day and enjoy the daily experience, and think I’m having an impact and help in the bigger cause, which is to be the best we can and strive for championships, I’m perfectly happy.”

Of course, Wesley isn’t playing any football this fall. But the Wolverines are working out and getting ready for what they hope will be a spring season.

After defensive coordinator Joe Bottiglieri’s retirement in the off-season, Knapp likes having another veteran coach on staff. He said Purtill has been a great resource for him.

“He just has good ideas,” said Knapp. “We’re always evolving. With the way information flows these days, you can’t stand pat.”

Knowing Knapp, as well as coaching in Division III himself, Purtill has kept an eye on Wesley over the years. He said he just wants to help the Wolverines continue to win.

“I was a big fan (of Wesley),” said Purtill. “Especially in the playoffs, you can go online and watch all the games. I’m very proud of what he (Knapp) has accomplished.

“I’m very happy, at this point, to see if I can help him continue that.”