SANTA CLARA -- It took more than six years, a change of careers, a change back, and a move up the ladder for both men, but Scott Brown is finally coaching nose tackle Mike Purcell.
Purcell and Brown, who was Colorado State’s defensive line coach at the time, first met when Brown was recruiting him out of Highlands Ranch High (Colorado).
But there was only one problem: Brown could not offer Purcell a scholarship for the 2009 season because Colorado State had another player head coach Steve Fairchild wanted more than Purcell.
“He wanted to pull the trigger on me, but the head coach didn’t,” Purcell said. “I went to the rival Wyoming and beat them four years in a row. It was a good decision.”
After being recognized as first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection, Purcell was not selected in the 2013 NFL draft. Brown finally succeeded in getting Purcell signed in 2013.
Brown had already moved on to become a regional scout with the 49ers, and he again made contact with Purcell and played a major role in convincing him to sign as a free agent. It was not an easy sell. After all, the 49ers had Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, in addition to newly signed Glenn Dorsey and draft picks Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial.
“It was a tough decision,” Purcell said, “but I knew I could learn the most from being here.”
After coach Jim Tomsula was promoted from defensive line coach, he asked Trent Baalke if he could hire Brown out of the scouting department to take over as the line coach.
Purcell’s game appears to have taken off this summer.
Purcell spent most of his first two seasons with the 49ers on the practice squad. Last year, he was promoted late in the season and recorded two tackles in two games. On Saturday, his bid for a full-time spot on a 53-man roster got off to an impressive start.
Purcell played 23 snaps and was credited with six tackles in the 49ers’ 23-10 loss to the Houston Texans in the exhibition opener. He threw running back Alfred Blue for a 3-yard loss at the goal line and played a significant role in a defensive stand that held Houston out of the end zone on six plays from the 1-yard line. Texans offensive lineman Cody White was called for holding when he tackled Purcell as he broke into the backfield on another play.
“Obviously, that game (Saturday) night, with the way Michael played, you feel great for him. Michael Purcell, he’s one of those guys, he’s a father, he’s a husband,” said 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, who was Purcell’s defensive line coach for his first two NFL seasons.
“He’s a hard-working guy, he’s a good person, a great teammate. He’s got all those things, and he’s got a lot of ability. You root for him, you pull for him, and it excites you.”
Purcell is often overlooked when the conversation turns to the 49ers’ deep group of defensive linemen. The outside world sees it as a competition among teammates, but Purcell said the players do not look at it that way.
“It’s not even so much the competition,” he said. “We don’t view it that way. We’re a unit that makes sure that we can all work together, help out one another. That’s what helps the depth. I’m sitting behind Ian (Williams), and he’s one of the best nose guards in the league. He’s someone I can always look up to and learn from.”
The 49ers can keep only so many defensive linemen. Purcell is making a strong bid for a roster spot. If he does not make it with the 49ers, he should be an attractive option for another team.
“I’ve definitely taken a big step up from the past two years,” Purcell said. “I ended up being on the practice squad the last two years. I think this year is the year that I make it happen. I want to make sure I get some good film.”
There’s little doubt he accomplished that goal on Saturday night.