HELENA — Thirty-two years ago, Russell McCarvel was getting his start in the football coaching world, with stops in his hometown Glendive, Malta, Glasgow, Laurel, Kalispell and Helena, including high school head coaching positions with Dawson County High School in Glendive and Kalispell Flathead High School.
For the past four seasons, McCarvel has been an offensive assistant on the Helena Capital staff, coaching his son Conor with the Bruins. Over the summer, Russell McCarvel accepted a position as running backs coach at Dickinson State University, as well as assistant athletic director with the Blue Hawks.
MTN Sports sat down with McCarvel over the summer to discuss the three decades of coaching, including an NAIA national championship with Carroll College, his time tutoring NFL quarterback Brock Osweiler and the transition from the math classroom to the athletics office at DSU.
MTN Sports: It was a busy summer for you, for those that don’t know, some life-changing things going on right now.
McCarvel: “Right. We’re super excited because I took a position as running back coach and associate athletic director at Dickinson State University working for head coach Pete Stanton, a guy I’ve known since high school, a guy that’s really well-respected. I’m super excited about it. I finished up a 30-year teaching career, which was great, but I’m excited for the new challenge and excited to be on a college campus every day.”
MTN Sports: Something you’ve been looking into? Had in the back of your mind recently?
McCarvel: “The ball just kind of got rolling. My son (Conor), of course, has committed to play there and they had some movement on their staff, including Jace Schillinger going to the (Montana) Grizzlies. I gave Pete a call and just asked him, ‘What are you doing with those openings?’ We started a conversation that ended with an interview on campus and a job offer. That’s how it got going.”
MTN Sports: What’s the biggest challenge in your mind right now, moving from the high school game back to the college game? You were working with the quarterbacks here recently, now working with the running backs.
McCarvel: “I worked with running backs in 2005 at Carroll and that was great. We had a great season. Tyler Emmert and his entire offensive crew, Coach (Mike) Van Diest, Coach (Nick) Howlett, they were all great. That part won’t be a big change, but I think being at the campus every day will be a lot of fun. Football is football, so that part, I don’t think will be a huge difference. Recruiting and the things that I have to do as the associate athletic director, but the recruiting part will be a lot of fun. I have eastern Montana, that’s an area that I’m very familiar with having grown up there and coaching there, also, so I think it’s going to be a smooth and exciting transition.”
MTN Sports: You mentioned Emmert, didn’t lose a game in high school (at Helena Capital), Van Diest jokes he didn’t lose a game until he got him at Carroll, what made that kid so special? Four championships, two NAIA player of the year awards, you talk about a top-five quarterback.
McCarvel: “He’s an all-timer, no question. He was so calm at all times and that was the key for him. He was unbelievably accurate. He ended his career at over 70 percent and I tell people if you did that for a game, people thought you had a good game. If you did it for five weeks, people would think you were on fire. He did it for four years. His accuracy was incredible. His knowledge of what our offense needed to do and what the other defense was supposed to do or was going to do was phenomenal.”
MTN Sports: (Brock) Osweiler, when did the growth spurt hit and when did you start seeing strides that this kid could be a legit quarterback in Montana, Division I and we’ll talk NFL later?
McCarvel: “I saw him throw a corner route at about 45 yards on a dime and I was like, ‘Wow, that kid’s a sophomore.’ The spring of his sophomore year, he had already committed to Gonzaga at that time for basketball, but he came up to me and said, ‘Hey coach, I was thinking about maybe sending out some video to a few schools. What do you think?’ That was really the day I knew he would end up in football because I knew the kind of interest that an athletic, 6-foot-7 kid would generate. There aren’t many kids from Montana that can say, ‘Hey, do you think I should send one out to Florida State? Alabama? Washington? Arizona State?’ and those kinds of places, and you say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’ I got a call back from Florida State in the middle of the summer and they asked me right away, ‘Is that kid really a sophomore? Is he really that big?’ That’s really what got the ball rolling. I had, on my whiteboard in my classroom, I had numbers of coaches that he needed to get ahold of that were calling me. It was long, a lot of big-time schools, obviously, and a lot of, at that time, (Western Athletic Conference) schools and so on. It was a pretty long list of schools.”
MTN Sports: When in high school or what was that defining play that let you know this kid would be all right moving forward? Was there anything where you just said, ‘Yeah, this kid has the talent to perform and go beyond?’
McCarvel: “It was really in two parts. No. 1, physically he just didn’t look like everyone else. But his preparation was great. (No. 2), his knowledge and his want to be great, he definitely wanted to be great. He didn’t really talk about the NFL, but you knew it and definitely knew he wanted to be a big-time Division I quarterback. He had the tools to do it.”
MTN Sports: The college career (at Arizona State), did you get to go down there and watch? It’s not every day that a coach gets one of his kids in a level like the Pac-12, playing on ESPN and Fox Sports and whatnot. What was that like watching him have good games down there?
McCarvel: “I went down there every spring break he was down there, which was a lot of fun. Coaches treated me great while I was there, he was great to me. We went out to dinner often. Before his first start against Oregon on the road, he called me up that Monday night and said, ‘Coach, I’m starting.’ I took off with my family Friday night after our game in Kalispell, we drove all the way to Oregon and caught him in a night game. The atmosphere was unbelievable. He had a tough night that night, but the atmosphere was unreal. He came over in the pregame and said hello, it was great to see him. We visited after the game. I also watched him play Washington State and down in Arizona. It was a fun time to follow him, for sure.”
MTN Sports: Now in the NFL, that first year he filled in for Peyton Manning, he was a huge part of their Super Bowl run, then Houston gave him a bunch of money, one of the huge contracts, have you talked with him since about some of the struggles since the Super Bowl year to now trying to find his fit again, saying, ‘Hey, I’m still that same guy I was in those six, seven games, whatever it was?’
McCarvel: “Our visits are much more short text messages at this time, to be honest with you. I think he’s just so busy now. I actually texted him this morning and said, ‘Hey, headed to the TV station to talk about you,’ and he said, ‘Very cool. Good luck.’ He also called on my behalf to Dickinson State. I texted him and said, ‘Hey, I’m going after this college job, would you mind giving them a call?’ and he did. It’s a lot more family stuff and, ‘How are you doing?’ instead of football. He’s at a point where he has a different perspective. He’s certainly all-in on football, but he also has a young family, so our conversations are a lot more family-oriented now. He always asks how my family is doing, how the boys are doing, he’s very thoughtful in that way.”
MTN Sports: You get into some fun Twitter banters about the old days. For those people that don’t know, maybe tell them some of your playing days, from baseball to football, whatever it holds.
McCarvel: “My career was fairly minimal, that’s for sure. The Twitter banter would be easy to go back and forth. But really I was just a guy who loved playing sports and that’s kind of what got me into it. My high school coach, Jim Person, asked me to help out with the freshman team before I left for college and that kind of hooked me. I was a guy that studied the game and liked the game. As far as my abilities, I would say I was first-team all-Glendive and happy to be that.”
MTN Sports: Did you ever think you would have as many stops as you have? And still be continuing?
McCarvel: “No, not at all. I look in the mirror sometimes and can’t believe I’ve coached this long. But I really enjoy working with young kids, I love working with people that have the want to be great. That’s my favorite part of coaching, is working with people who are trying to achieve greatness in themselves, whether it’s on the field, off or both. That’s my favorite part of working with kids.”
MTN Sports: How long is ‘this long?’
McCarvel: “I’ve been coaching for 31 years. This will be my 32nd fall. If you count up the time that I was a ball boy in Little League and then started playing Little League, I think I’ve either coached or played football for about 44 of my 52 years. So it’s kind of part of what I’ve done, along with coaching some youth baseball and being a part of that. I’ve enjoyed watching my boys grow up, watching their baseball and football careers.”
MTN Sports: It’s not like we won’t still see you in Montana, but what are you going to miss about physically living here, being here?
McCarvel: “This isn’t so much the physical part, although it’s a big change, but just the people around here. The people at (Helena) Capital have been awesome to me, both on the coaching staff, Kyle Mihelish and all the guys on the staff, and all my math department friends at Capital High. Just a lot of great people in Capital. I have family here, my sister and her family, so we’ll miss all those people for sure.”