BRUNSWICK — Hearing the first notes of the national anthem, Dave Caputi bowed his head. He stood apart from his Bowdoin College football players and his assistant coaches.

Caputi has listened to it before hundreds of kickoffs on game day. What he was thinking while he seemed deep in thought, I can’t tell you. He declined to talk after Trinity extended its unbeaten streak to five games, winning 17-10 in front of a Bowdoin homecoming crowd of perhaps under 1,000.

The outcome was a surprise. Other than a field goal, Bowdoin’s inspired defense kept Trinity out of the end zone for three quarters. Trinity often has the highest-scoring offense in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

Caputi’s career at Bowdoin ends in three weeks with the final game of the season at rival Colby. He’s in his 15th season as head coach. His overall record after Saturday’s loss is 35-82. His teams lost two of every three games they played. After Saturday, Bowdoin’s record this season is 2-3.

At Bowdoin, success is prized but it’s defined differently. Again and again Saturday, I heard variations of the same phrases describing Caputi, the man.

He cares deeply for his players. He cares about them long after their football careers are over.

I didn’t hear the same praise for Caputi, the coach. Winning 30 percent of your games over 15 years can be damning. But who shares the blame?

While offensive coordinator at rival Williams, Caputi was part of four unbeaten seasons and an overall record of 88-13-3. He was part of a perfect season at Amherst. As quarterbacks coach he helped turn the Tufts program around.

What part of a successful formula had he forgotten? What wasn’t he given for resources or commitment at Bowdoin? He invested 15 years of his life working toward winning and walks away with the worst career record among Bowdoin football coaches.

Days before the game he declined to talk, saying he had to get his team ready to play Trinity. You can understand.

The announcement that Caputi was done came earlier in the past week. The coach met with Athletic Director Tim Ryan in what might have been a difficult meeting.

Caputi hired Ryan, a Bowdoin graduate and former football player, to his coaching staff more than 10 years ago.

Ryan knows Bowdoin’s football legacy. Over 123 seasons its teams have lost more than 100 games than it won. Only four men who have coached more than one season left with career winning records.

“Personally, this caught me off guard,” said Tom Wells, a senior defensive lineman and captain from Weston, Massachusetts. “We didn’t see this coming. I love Coach Caputi.”

Hearing the news, the players met together.

“It’s the nature of the business. We know that,” said Wells. “We knew the only thing we can control is what we do in our practice.”

The Bowdoin players were relatively somber in pregame warmups. No chest thumping. No displays of raging testosterone. When the game started, the players went about their business and let the intensity build naturally.

“We were going to attack. We were going to be aggressive. I’m proud of how tough we were today,” said Wells. “I’m not one for moral victories but we proved to ourselves we can play football with the best.”

Yes, Trinity outgained Bowdoin on offense. It had the football for longer stretches of time. But when the fourth quarter started Bowdoin was up, 10-3.

“A couple of plays made the difference,” said Wells. “That’s all.”

Minutes before, I stood with Jeff Ward, the former Bowdoin athletic director who hired Caputi in 2000. “Look,” said Ward, gesturing to the coach embracing former players on the field some 20 minutes after the game ended. “Look at his face talking to these kids. He always put them first.”

A number of Bowdoin football players have attended the Marine officer candidate school in Quantico, Virginia, for two summers, receiving a commission on the same day they get their Bowdoin diploma. That commencement day has always meant a lot to Caputi. It will mean more this spring. Mac, his only son and Bowdoin’s senior quarterback, is on track to receive his Marine commission.

A football coach’s career is ending at Bowdoin. A man’s impact will not.


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