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Moon Valley naming field after legendary coach Earl Putman

October 5, 2011
Moon Valley Football

Earl Putman didn’t like to be called by his nickname, Tiny.  Old friends could get away with it. So could his former teammates with the New York Giants and Chicago Cardinals of the NFL.

“But if you were younger and didn’t know him so long and called him that, he’d just say, ‘My name is Earl,’ ” recalled Cottonwood Mingus offensive coordinator Mel Harms, an assistant under Putman at Phoenix Moon Valley High School for 15 years. “He never got mad about it. He would just glare at you. But that’s all it took.”

On Friday, Moon Valley will name its field after Putman, who coached the Rockets from 1964 to 1989 and led them to a 14-0 record and Class 5A state championship in 1982. Putman, who passed away five years ago, will be remembered for his gentle nature, his character, his coaching acumen – he won 167 games – and, yes, his size.

The Arizona State graduate – he was a football player and a track and field star – was an XXX large in a medium world. When he played for the Cardinals in 1957, the Earl Putman football trading card said he was “the biggest man in pro ball” at 6-foot-6, 308 pounds, with size 16 EEEE shoes.

Turns out, Putman’s girth was the least impressive thing about him. He was as principled as he was successful; those who knew him say his coaching ability always came in second to his honesty and dignity.

“He wasn’t easy to live with, but football coaches aren’t,” said his wife of 54 years, Vivian, who will be at Friday’s ceremony along with 47 blood relatives. “But you could count on him to do the right thing.”

Tim Sanford, an assistant at Brophy College Preparatory, was on Putman’s Moon Valley staff from 1975 to 1985. In the early 1980s, Sanford recalled, Moon Valley was preparing to play Phoenix Cortez when Putman received a letter from “somebody at Cortez who didn’t like the football coach.” The letter detailed changes Cortez was making in its offense for the game.

“Earl didn’t tell our defensive coordinator that he had received the letter,” Sanford said. “He felt it was the wrong way to use it because of the way he got the information. That’s missing maybe in today’s game.”

The defensive coordinator was Harms.

“Yeah, I remember that,” Harms said. “If you dropped your playbook in front of him, he wouldn’t look at it. That was Earl.”

Putman’s size could be intimidating – until you met the man. He was as quiet and unassuming as he was big. He rarely told his players of his NFL career – “he wasn’t one to brag,” Sanford said – and he wasn’t one to raise his voice in anger. He believed an arm around the shoulder was as instructive as a kick in the pants.

“When he looked you in the eye and spoke to you he didn’t have to yell,” said former Moon Valley and Northern Arizona University quarterback Greg Wyatt, now the coach at Durango (Colo.) High School. “That’s because we had so much respect for him.”

More than anything, Putman believed football was less about winning than it was about family and, as Harms said, “making kids better men.” Friday nights after games weren’t reserved for pizza, wings and an instant replay of the contest. He insisted his coaches bring their wives and, often, their children as well.

“Everything was orientated to make sure we understood how important life is beyond football,” Sanford said.

Putman could coach a little, too, as his two High School Coach of the Year awards (’82, 1986) attest. But that’s not why Moon Valley is naming its field after him. It’s because of how he lived and what he meant to the thousands of kids who played for him.

“He shaped so many of us in our high school days, and how we’ve gotten involved in helping other people,” Wyatt said. “He exemplified what it meant to be a coach. Class is the perfect word.”

The only thing tiny about Putman, it seemed, was his nickname.

Putman field dedication ceremonies

Moon Valley High School will be dedicating its football field in honor of the late coach Earl Putman Friday night before its game against Phoenix Sierra Linda. The event begins at 6 p.m. Friday night’s schedule of events:

-6 p.m. - Pre-game events.

-6:10 p.m. - Unveiling of the gate entrance sign.

-6:20 p.m. - Player entrance unveiled.

-6:30 p.m. - Football field and naming ceremony.

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