Joe Purzycki book
A tremendous contribution has been made to the athletics history of Delaware State University, the State of Delaware and college football in general with the recent publication of the book Mr. Townsend & The Polish Prince – An American Story of Race, Redemption and Football.
The book chronicles the four years that followed the unprecedented hire of a white head football coach in 1981 to a Historically Black Institution of Higher Education, Delaware State College. Nelson Townsend, the school’s athletics director, was determined to turn around a DSC football program so embarrassing that it earned infamous national attention in 1980 by suffering a college football record loss to Portland State University 105-0.
Nelson was determined not to conventionally pick “the right fit” (i.e., a black football coach), but rather the top available person for the job, regardless of race.
In his mind, University of Delaware Assistant Football Coach Joe Purzycki represented the best hope for college to transform the DSC Hornets into a respectable and competitive football team. However, it went against the grain of the tradition of hiring black coaches for HBCU football teams, making it a steep uphill climb for both Townsend and Purzycki. Confronted with opposition from faculty, administrators, alumni and particularly the DSC football players and students – who derisively dubbed the new coach “the Polish Prince” – as well as the reluctant support of the College’s President Luna I. Mishoe, Coach Purzycki had to earn the respect and confidence of the Hornet team members and the DSC community.
Coach Purzycki met the daunting racial politics of that period by diligently installing an effective regime and organization, which methodically began yielding improvements and began winning over more and more of the Hornet players. Their buy-in to the new football system did not immediately translate into winning seasons, but by the coach’s third year, the team was suddenly a force to be reckoned within its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) – so much so that they were at one point ranked as high as 12th nationally among I-AA collegiate teams. They ended that 1983 campaign at 7-3-1. The following year (Purzycki’s final year as coach), the team was 8-2.
“I’ve wanted to tell this story for 38 years,” said Purzycki. “Hopefully it has some relevance as a story about race that’s incredibly positive when people work together.”
To see a video on the book, click on the following link: https://thepolishprince.com/
The book – written by Mike Gastineau with Purzycki – recounts the steadfast perseverance of the coach – who pressed on amid student protests, an adversarial student newspaper, the vandalization of his office, and abundant cold shoulders on campus. Moreover, the book is just as much about the radical courage of AD Townsend who faced opposition from the African American community within and without the campus over his decision to hire Purzycki, but refused to yield to the countless naysayers. Townsend – who passed away in 2015 – is one of five former DSU members who have been inducted in the MEAC Hall of Fame.
“It’s a really interesting story to me because it reinforces how deep Joe and Nelson believed in each other,” the co-author Gastineau said. “They walked through a long, deep, tough valley to get to the other side and they never wavered on each other.”
The co-authors richly incorporate the interviews of former Hornet players who played under Purzycki, such as Joe Lane, Nigel Dunn, Steven Holiday, John Taylor (who would go on to be a Super Bowl MVP for the San Francisco 49ers) and others. Former assistant coaches of that period also provide perspectives, including Bill Collick – who would succeed Purzycki as head coach and for many seasons continued the winning foundation that his predecessor established.
Coach Purzycki went from being an outcast among MEAC coaches to earning their votes in 1983 as the MEAC Coach of the Year.
Mr. Townsend & The Polish Prince can be purchased through http://www.amazon.com.