Football has taken Louisiana (Mo.) High School football coach Greg Purdum all over the world.
In his most recent travels, he helped coach the under-19 USA Football team in the 2016 International Federation of American Football World Championship in Harbin, China, where the Americans took the silver medal after losing to Canada in the gold medal game. Purdum will be back on the USA Football sidelines at the end of January when the U.S. takes on Canada in Orlando the day before the NFL's Pro Bowl.
Football runs in Purdum's family, too. His son Tanner, just finished his seventh season as a long snapper for the New York Jets after originally being picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
Purdum, who has coached high school, college and professional indoor football for nearly 40 years, recently talked about his trip to China, the difficulty of buying food at the store and what the holidays are like in the Big Apple.
How does something like getting to go to China come up?
USA Football was short some coaches and were trying to put together staff in a quick hurry. The director was having trouble finding an offensive line coach, and one of the defensive line coaches knew me from high school and we stayed in touch. It really helps still knowing people.
When did going to China come on the radar?
I got called the day after Memorial Day and asked if I wanted to go. I thought a month was a long time to be away from the program in the summer. I didn't have my passport and we were leaving in the middle of June. So I did the paperwork for it on June 1, and on June 10 when I got back from team camp it was sitting in my mailbox. It ended up costing me about twice as much, but I was fortunate to get it in time, and I was excited to get it. We turned around and left June 19 for New Jersey to do some training before we left.
Had you been out of the country before?
That was my fifth time, actually. I've taken all-star football teams to England three times and another one to Germany. The last time I had been out of the country when I was down in southern Missouri, and I took my son and some of his teammates to England. This was the first time I had been to Asia.
Did you get to spend much time taking in the culture?
That was the thing. When we went to England, we did some sight-seeing, practice and played. When we went to China, we went over there to do a job and win a gold medal. We went to go see one thing. It was like a tiger Jurassic Park, and that was awesome. The rest of the time we were there, we had practice, look at film and plan for the next game. We had four games in 17 days, and the first three days there we spent getting acclimated and didn't play. So it was football the entire time we were there.
I've got to imagine China isn't like the other countries you've visited.
The biggest thing was the language barrier. It was absolutely impossible. Trying to go to the store and buying something, you didn't know what you were getting. You had to rely upon the pictures to know. One of the coaches who was with us was Fred Biletnikoff Jr. He coaches at a private school in the San Francisco area, and strangely enough, one of his former students was from Harbin University where we stayed while we were there. He came over almost every other day and went to a store on campus, and he would help us translate and get us things we wanted. If it wasn't for him, that wasn't going to happen. The Thursday before our first game, we did a football camp with the Chinese team since we didn't play them. I was watching the defensive line coach trying to teach kids, and the translators couldn't even keep up because they didn't have words to describe the terminology.
That's probably the first time you've had a language barrier while coaching. How patient did you have to be?
You have such a wide variety of skill and knowledge at the high school level, but we had to be more conscious of the speed because the kids there couldn't keep up. If you could get them to get a basic step, it was going to be beneficial for them.
Would you do it again?
It's one of those things you never think about. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and it was something I couldn't pass up. Even if I was asked to go back, I would probably say no. USA Football supplied us with all the water, food, toilet paper and laundry for us. The longer I was there, the more I noticed we were living like Chinese students because we were living in dorms, we walked two blocks to eat and we walked everywhere. If we had practice across campus, there was a bus brought to us.
You're getting to help coach for USA Football at the end of the month. Explain what's going on with that.
We're playing against Canada in the International Bowl in Orlando on the Saturday before the Pro Bowl. It's all going to all be on television on ESPNU. It's all tied in with the Pro Bowl. It's something we talked about in China, and six of us from the coaching staff in China will be down there coaching for this. When we were in China, we beat Canada the first time, but when it came back for the gold medal, they beat us. Coaching football is fun, but when you're going to represent the country, it adds a lot to it.
You're also the father of an NFL player. What's it been like watching your son go on that journey?
I'm really, really proud of him, and probably more so than usual. I saw how hard he worked and the time and effort he put it into it. He did it all through college and was a graduate assistant. He's got his master's degree in certified education, and then he got a chance to participate in the NFL. Being a football coach for so long and him growing up around it, it's been a lot of fun watching him excel like he has. Not just the physical part, but the mental side of it. When the Kansas City Chiefs cut him, he was down, and he kept working out waiting for that next opportunity.
Since Tanner is a long snapper, are there any statistics for him?
What he says all along is if someone is talking about him, it's because he messed up. That's what was so awesome. He was actually long snapping before he was throwing a football. It's really humbling to see him take it to that level and be so consistent. The Jets did an article on him that he's had over 1,000 snaps in his career, and he's never had a bad one. So knock on wood. But that's attributed to the work he does in the offseason where he's doing probably about 100-150 snaps a day.
How often do you get to watch Tanner play?
The first year, I went up there for two games, and ever since, I always go up between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Jets came to St. Louis a few years ago and I got sideline passes, and whenever they play the Chiefs, I always go up there, too.
What's New York City like during the holidays?
Without him being there, I never had any desire to go to New York. But it's awesome. We go to Rockefeller Plaza and see the tree. His wife is a great tour director, so we get to see all the sights. I also go there in the summer to help with a football camp that he has, so I get to go up there and see him a few times a year.