Purple Pride: A High School Coach’s Journey by Donald Herman, 2019, 179 pages, $15.95

Once upon a time in the 1980s, at a gala University of Iowa reception, a smiling functionary guided a delegation from the Soviet Union through the press of people gathered for a catered affair in the scenic Old Capitol building at the top of campus. The Soviet delegation consisted of education officials, and they were eager to learn more about the leadership of a big, prosperous American university in the American Midwest. While the functionary introduced them to James O. Freedman, then President of the University, a big, grizzled onlooker squinted in visible irritation. When the chat with Mr. Freedman was over, the functionary introduced his charges to this individual, offering apologies for not having done so sooner.

“I don’t mind, I guess,” replied Hayden Fry, legendary coach of the University of Iowa Hawkeye football team, “as long as Jimmy doesn’t forget who’s in charge here.”

The story, though just possibly apocryphal, illustrates the curious social heft so many American cities and towns give to their football coaches. Other sports may have more international appeal, and other sports may represent larger amounts of money and still other sports, particularly baseball, of course, may have a more favored position in American folklore, but when summer starts to wane and the weather starts to cool in the United States, the thoughts of towns across the country turn to football.

Naturally enough, this is true even on the Vineyard, and just in time for the start of the season, a Vineyard institution has written a book on the game, and on life. Purple Pride is Donald Herman’s account of 28 years coaching the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team, and as anyone who’s ever coached even so much as a PeeWee League team in any sport, 28 years translates to a lot of stories.

Mr. Herman gives readers a brief sketch of his pre-Vineyard life and career, his upbringing in Savannah, Ga., his family, his history of both playing and coaching football prior to his first Vineyard football season in 1988. And then the book delves deep into his Island career, the players, the personalities, and whatever lessons his decades of coaching could impart.

One of the earliest examples of these stories concerns hair length: Mr. Herman insists that his players cut their hair so that it doesn’t extend outside their helmets. He institutes the rule, he writes, in order to guarantee that his longer-haired players will have to sacrifice something for the team. When one player objected, saying he didn’t think the length of his hair had any impact on his ability to play football, Mr. Herman evenly tells him: “Your hair will impact your playing because if you don’t conform, you don’t play.”

The boy goes home, talks it over with his parents, and decides to cut his hair. . . and ends up grateful to his coach for the discipline.

Quite often, Mr. Herman’s stories are funny. One of the shortest and most hilariously baffling of these takes the form of a question: “Is the homecoming game home or away?”

A longer lighthearted story involved the team’s dress code for away games: a dress shirt, a tie, dress pants, belt, socks and dress shoes. Like many other coaches at all levels of the game, Mr. Herman quite sensibly insists that such a dress code is a simple gesture of respect, for your own fans and for your hosts in other towns. So on the eve of one such game, he reminds his players to dress appropriately for the game. When departure time came, a clueless freshman showed up in full playing gear, right down to his cleats. His defense? “Coach, you told us to come dressed for the game.”

One of the book’s most rousing concluding anecdotes brings readers full circle back to the question of sacrificing hair for the team. In the 2012 season, Mr. Herman tells his players that if the team finishes 7-4, he’ll shave his famous mustache. They come through for him, and they watch and film and cheer as he shaves.

“I always looked for ways to inspire and motivate my teams to play over and above their abilities,” he writes. “Maybe I should have offered to shave my mustache more often.”

Purple Pride is filled with these kinds of sometimes wry, always gentle reflections on human nature as it’s reflected on the playing field. In 2015, Herman was inducted into the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, and in the pages of this book, in its stories of heart, sacrifice and raucous fun, even readers who’ve never watched a Vineyard game will easily see why.