To watch Myers Park High's football teams play offense in the 1950s and '60s was to catch a glimpse of the sport's future.
The creator of those innovative and wide-open Mustangs attacks - which featured pro-style and spread formations, shotgun snaps, double-reverses and lots of flea flickers that were unheard of on the high school level then - was coach Gus Purcell.
"He was such a forward thinker," said Jeff Beaver, executive director of the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission and one of several Mustangs quarterbacks Purcell sent to play college football. "He was way ahead of his time."
Purcell died Friday in his hometown of Laurinburg. He was 87.
Purcell began coaching at Myers Park in 1952, before the forward pass was in vogue. As the tactic grew in popularity in the pros, Purcell sought to bring it to Myers Park.
Purcell would spend Sunday afternoons studying either the Washington Redskins or Baltimore Colts on television. He would diagram their offensive plays and install versions of them in his Mustangs' playbook on Monday.
"He had real creativity," said Charlotte attorney Ray Farris, another former Mustangs quarterback. "He studied incessantly, even going to Baltimore to see what they were doing. Even the scouting reports he had for us were as good or better than college scouting reports."
Purcell grew up in Laurinburg and was a backup running back behind Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice at North Carolina from 1946-49. It was there that he met his wife Bonnie, who was a majorette. Gus and Bonnie would raise three children - Lucy, Gary and Jimmy - after they came to Charlotte.
Purcell's Mustangs teams were 209-75-15. He coached in the 1960 Shrine Bowl and the East-West All-Star game in 1959. He was inducted into the N.C. High School Hall of Fame in 1995.
After Purcell retired from coaching in 1971, he ran a successful quarterbacks camp in south Charlotte for several years. He also owned a barbecue restaurant and fish camp in Charlotte.
In 2004, Purcell's former players held a reunion of sorts for him.
Randy Short, a quarterback on Myers Park's unbeaten 1965 team, recalled then how Purcell wanted the Mustangs to play, and how that philosophy transcended football.
"Coach would tell us, 'When we're on our own 2, 98 yards from the end zone, we don't run three downs and punt. I want you to think about scoring. Ninety-eight yards to go, by golly, we're getting ready to score.'
"I think that's a good way to approach life," Short said.
Visitation for Gus Purcell will be held Monday evening - at a time to be determined - at McDougald Funeral Home, 305 E. Church St., Laurinburg.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, 600 W. Church St., Laurinburg.
Published in Charlotte Observer from Mar. 26, 2011 to Mar. 23, 2012