Before he became a football coach, Jeff Scurran earned a journalism degree at the University of Florida and went to work at a small newspaper in Decatur, Georgia.
“I sold ads, took pictures, wrote stories,” he remembers. “I did everything.”
Now, 40 years later, he has written a book.
It’s not about all those state championships at Sabino High School or about how he built an 0-10 Santa Rita High School team into a state finalist. And it’s not about coaching an Italian semi-pro team.
It is about one football game in a coaching career of more than 300.
“I’m a good story-teller,” says Scurran. “That doesn’t make me a novelist.”
But it works. It’s one of the most remarkable stories, start to finish, in the history of Tucson sports.
Over 388 pages, “One Game One Time” is the saga of the 2004 Pima College football team, specifically its unexpected bowl victory over highly favored Kilgore College from Texas, a year of crisis in which Scurran “retired” before he could be fired by former PCC chancellor Roy Flores.
It is “Rudy” without the predictable feel-good finish. It’s “The Replacements” without sex.
Scurran’s book, which will be available on Amazon later this month, has all the elements to be a successful movie, and, he says, such discussions are taking place.
A high school football coach doesn’t ordinarily write a book. Where’s the time? But in the small gaps between Scurran’s coaching stops at Pima, Santa Rita, the Guelfi Firenze club in Italy and now Catalina Foothills, he created time to write.
“It took me a year and a half to get cranked up,” he says. “I actually started on a cruise ship across the Atlantic when I had six days to get away and think. It’s an interesting story but, obviously, it’s not a great work of literature.”
Had he wanted, Scurran could have named names and pointed fingers. The political nature of coaching high school football, or any type of football, makes good reading, doesn’t it? But it’s not a tell-all book.
Not once does he say Flores, the irascible ex-PCC chancellor, was a jerk or anything like that.
“I don’t have a hate gear,” says Scurran. “But it’s clear in the book that (Flores) is the protagonist.”
After coaching Sabino to state championships in 1990, 1992 and 1998, Scurran agreed to start a football program at Pima College. After 18 months of start-up machinations, he was scheduled to play the first game in school history against the defending national champions, Glendale Community College.
Pima won, 28-20. You could almost write a book about that.
Two years later, just as PCC was developing into a regional power, Flores became chancellor. He was not a fan of intercollegiate sports whatsoever.
Scurran’s book is not fiction (although sometimes it comes off that way, given the improbable series of events), but neither is it fully non-fiction. It is clearly labeled “based on a true story” which, Scurran says, means he did not have to use the names of current and former PCC employees who were part of Flores’ bumpy administration.
But you can figure it out without much difficulty.
Much of the suspense of the book is whether Flores would permit PCC to play in the 2004 Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl Classic, a junior college bowl game in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Ultimately, Flores gave an icy approval after Scurran raised about $50,000 for travel expenses a few days before Thanksgiving.
Then came the sobering thought that No. 3 Kilgore JC, the 2001 national champion, was apt to mash Scurran’s team on a national TV broadcast. In only its fourth year of organized football, Pima College was no one’s idea of a national powerhouse.
Scurran’s teams went 26-17 in four years, and that remains one of the great achievements in Tucson sports. PCC hasn’t had a winning season since.
Scurran spends significant effort presenting the background of his players and detailing the hardships required to play for a start-up community college without administrative support and almost no money.
Some of the feel-good parts to the book are irresistible. A few days before leaving for the Pilgrim’s Pride Classic, over Thanksgiving 2004, about 80 hungry players decided to stay in Tucson to prepare for the game. They ate leftovers from a pizza chain, a steakhouse and a breakfast restaurant.
It was a bonding experience like few others in football.
A Texas news outlet rated Kilgore a 42-point favorite. Another wrote it would be a 40-point blowout.
That’s Rudy and more.
In Scurran’s last game at Pima, in the moments before his team walked onto the field for kickoff, he told his team: “If we play these guys 10 times, we lose nine. But we don’t play them 10 times. We play them once.”
Pima won 10-7.
You could write a book about it.