WHITEFISH — Charlie Gross has three decades of experience working in high school and college athletics.
In the fall, he’ll start his fourth school year as the director of athletics at Carroll College.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Gross said of his time in Helena at the Frontier Conference athletic directors meetings earlier this summer. “Great student-athletes to work with on a daily basis, a veteran coaching staff that cares about the wellbeing of our student-athletes, and an institution with a lot of history with athletic success and rich in academic tradition.”
It’s that success and tradition Gross is hoping to carry into another year with the Fighting Saints. In the past two years, he’s done his part to leave his mark, hiring Kurt Paulson to coach the men’s basketball team and Troy Purcell to lead the football program.
“As an athletic director the one key element to how you can directly influence the direction of your program is the coaches who you hire,” Gross said. “So I always say well-prepared athletic directors have a list of, not maybe who their next candidates will be, but what are the qualities they’re looking for, what’s important that the next candidate brings to the job to assure that there’s success and that they move the program in the direction that you want.”
Gross and the Carroll search committee pegged Paulson early in the search process. A former Carroll player, Paulson cut his teeth in the coaching ranks since 2006. Before returning to Helena, Paulson was on Wayne Tinkle’s staff at Oregon State.
It didn’t take long for Gross’ first hire to pay dividends. Building off a successful run started by Carson Cunningham, Paulson took the Saints all the way to the NAIA national championship game last March.
In his first season coaching the Saints, Paulson led the team to a 29-8 record on its way to a runner-up finish at the national tournament.
“To be able to replicate that, we would all love to see that happen again,” Gross said. “(Paulson is) going to have a very youthful team, we’re really excited by his recruiting class, but youth has some ups and downs, and we know that that will happen. But the Frontier Conference is a highly competitive basketball league, and no night is a night off when you play a conference team. We are looking forward to a really exciting basketball season, and we know that there will be some new faces on the floor wearing the purple and gold.”
Purcell, meanwhile, will look to rediscover some old Carroll magic. The Saints were the dominant team in the NAIA for a number of years under Hall of Fame coach Mike Van Diest, winning six national championships — in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010 — and twice finishing runner-up — in 2008 and 2011.
Carroll, though, hasn’t posted a winning season since 2014. The Saints were 5-6 last season.
Van Diest announced his retirement in November, and Gross moved quickly to hire Purcell, a former Saints player and longtime coach with a successful resume, including high school state championships after Havre and Bozeman, as well as an assistant coaching job at the University of Idaho.
“Troy brings a great work ethic, an ability to get his hands dirty in all phases of the program,” Gross said. “The first thing he had to do was figure out who he wanted on his staff while at the same time identifying recruits. It’s recruiting for the current class that will be enrolling this fall, but at the same time developing those lists for the future classes. And he is able to juggle so many balls in the air and keep things well-organized and keep his focus. His spirit is good, he’s positive, he’s a glass-half-full kind of guy, his energy is contagious. I know that he’s ready for August to roll around so camp can begin. It seems like it’s been a long time coming. I know that he’s in his first year, but we were very quick to make that hire after the end of the football season. We feel like he’s been around for more than a year.”
Purcell and the football team start their 2019 season on Sept. 7 with a road trip to Frontier Conference foe Montana Western.