Posted: 11:32 am Saturday, March 28th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
Jupiter’s Charlie Persson has held his job longer than any other area football coach. He is getting ready for his 29th season on the Warriors sideline and will be inducted into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
He went 0-10 in his first season (1982) but had the team in the playoffs by ’85. That year, the Warriors started 1-4 before upsetting Pahokee and making a run for the post-season.
Persson, 56, is 160-159 in his career with the Warriors, but that is not an accurate measure of his impact at Jupiter. At least four college coaches and 12 Palm Beach County high school coaches played for him or coached under him, including Seminole Ridge head coach Matt Dickmann.
“He took me under his wing when I was 22 and treated me like I was one of his sons,” Dickmann said. “Not only was he a great friend, but I’m where I am because he let me grow as a coach.”
Here are some of Persson’s thoughts as he looks forward to entering the Hall of Fame, including a hint at retirement:
Palm Beach Post: What does it mean to you to be inducted?
Charlie Persson: “It means they didn’t have enough people to put in this year.”
PBP: You know you have to wear a jacket for this, right? Do you even own a suit and shoes?
CP: “I just actually went and bought a new suit.”
PBP: I did notice you’re wearing full-length pants today, so that’s a good start.
CP: “Yeah, that’s a step up. I did actually go to the Men’s Wearhouse and buy a two-for-one suit. The last suit I bought was for my dad’s retirement, which I know was 28 years ago, so I said maybe I’m due for a new suit. I’ll be sportin’ new threads.”
PBP: It’s good to know you won’t be wearing that ‘Dirty 30′ shirt. What does that even mean?
CP: “It’s something we started a few years ago. We were having trouble with spring practice and we came up with this plan that you have to, from May 1 to the end of two-a-days — which that particular year was 30 days — you had to start and finish every practice on your own power, on time. If you walked in a minute late to a meeting, you lost Dirty 30. It was an elite thing and it just snowballed. Some years you’ll have two or three kids, and some year you have 20 kids do it. It’s a thing any kid on the team can win.”
PBP: What do you remember about that 0-10 season?
CP: “That 0-10 year, we coached our butt off to go 0-10. I don’t want to wish it on anybody, but you need to have one of those to know the hard work. An 0-10 coach works his butt off more than a 10-0 coach sometimes.”
PBP: Must have felt good to get that first win the next season.
CP: “At that point we had a 21-game losing streak going back to the previous coach. We were playing Pope John Paul at Jupiter and we stopped them on a goal-line stand on the last play of the game to win.
“I remember Bryan Riddle walking out to practice on Monday and he walked out to the spot on the field and got on a knee and patted the spot (and said), ‘This is where we won our first game.’ Those are some of the things you remember.”
PBP: What was your favorite season?
CP: “This is actually going to be part of my speech. In 1985 … I knew we had a great football team coming up, but it seemed like the first four weeks of that season, we lost a key guy every week. We started out 1-4 and they parents actually took a chartered bus to the Pahokee game and they were passing around a petition to get me fired in ’85. After that 1-4 start, we finally got all the kids back and we upset Pahokee at Pahokee.
“That was the first year we took the Jupiter team to the state playoffs. That was probably my job-saving year and it was rewarding because those kids overcame adversity. They never got down and they just played their butt off every week. We knew we were a good team; we just needed to get everybody healthy. We won the Pahokee game and then we won four of the next five, and then we played Dillard in the first round of the playoffs. That was probably my favorite team. The ’91 team obviously was our best team. In ’90, ’91 and ’92 we had some great teams, but that ’85 team battled through injuries and adversities and that was probably my favorite team.”
PBP: Have you changed much over the past 28 years?
CP: “I’ve changed. There were coaches … that basically were run out of coaching because kids started asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ That ‘run through the wall mentality’ got basically run out of football. Guys who were able to change, the Paternos and the Bowdens, they were able to make changes with society and transcend different generations of kids. You make philosophical changes, but not your core values. You see people that can’t change and they don’t stay in the business long.”
PBP: What are those core values?
CP: “We hold the kids accountable. We hold them accountable to their class work, too. I probably do as much, if not more, discipline than some of the APs do. I have teachers e-mail me because they know we take care of things that day versus going through the bureaucracy and paperwork. Detentions don’t do it, but one you start attaching playing time … the teacher’s appreciate that.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that walk around this school that could help us, but aren’t committed to the same philosophy we are. That’s fine. Our kids are going to do it a certain way.”
PBP: You’re obsessed with being on time, right?
CP: “Kids come into my class or a meeting and they’ll say, ‘Coach, I’m just 10 seconds late.’ There’s no degree of tardiness.”
PBP: Is it significant to you that Seminole Ridge coach Matt Dickmann (who spent 18 years at Jupiter as an assistant) will attend Sunday’s ceremony?
CP: “I’ve always said any success I’ve ever had here has been directly related to his dedication and hard work. There’s no success here I couldn’t attribute to Matt Dickmann, and his work ethic is showing at Seminole Ridge with the program he’s building there also. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
PBP: When did you decide you wanted to coach high school football?
CP: “When I was a junior in high school, I remember laying on the gym floor wanting to be a high school football coach. This was my aspiration. I wanted to work with high school kids. This is all I ever wanted to do.”
PBP: Have you ever come close to retiring?
CP: “When I got here I used Sam Budnyk as the guy I wanted to emulate. I went to Sam two years ago because I was thinking of retiring. I called him up and we sat down in his office and talked about two and a half hours about why and what for. I was asking Sam when he knew. I even talked to Ron Ream about it. Today, to go out on the field and meet with kids and the one-on-one with your team, with your players, talking academics or college decisions, that’s still such a passion. But there’s so much peripheral stuff going on today with parents and things that you don’t have control over and the unbelievable expectations. The peripheral stuff is starting to really wear on me. I don’t think we had that years ago.”
PBP: How many more seasons do you think you can take?
CP: “As you reach milestones, it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m getting to be an old fart.’ I know this freshman class I have is very special and I can see myself going through with this freshman class. I’ll keep evaluating. I have this thought in my mind that when I get to the DROP program, DROP means drop out of society. Maybe when I hit DROP, that means I’ll be dropping out of it. My dad still says, ‘What the hell are you going to do? You’re still a young man.'”
PBP: Does your dad (also named Charlie) follow the team?
CP: “I started 39 college games in a row and he was at 38 of them, traveled all over the country. We had an argument when I was thinking about retiring and the gist of it came down to: what is he going to do on Friday nights? I may be living my dad’s dream. This is what he wanted to do, but he didn’t have that opportunity.”