Fred Bruney: Big on football and family

MARTINS FERRY -He is famous for all his gridiron exploits, and they were countless. Fred Bruney was more than just football – he was a dedicated family man.

Bruney is regarded as one of the finest football players ever produced at Martins Ferry High- and with the Purple grid tradition – that speaks volumes of his talent. He starred at The Ohio State University, had a long and successful professional playing career in both the NFL and AFL, before a record-setting pro coaching career.

Bruney died Friday at Brookdale Memory Care in Springs, Ga. He was 84.

Martins Ferry head football coach Dave Bruney is well acquainted with both sides of the man. Fred was Dave’s uncle.

“Fred was a great player and tremendous coach, but he was also a terrific family man,” Dave said. “I can remember going sled riding with him and his son Chuck up on Cemetery Road in the late 1950s. He was always around when there was a family event.

“We always looked forward to him coming home. He married his childhood sweetheart (Louise Freeman). They were married 60 years before she died in 2014,” he added. “The family plans on bringing them back this summer and burying them on the hill (Riverview Cemetery).”

Fred played on Ferry’s undefeated team as a senior in 1948. His all-state honors earned him a grid scholarship to Ohio State. Wes Fesler was his coach for two years at OSU with Woody Hayes taking over his junior and senior seasons.

He played both ways as a Buckeye senior, earning first-team all-Big Ten honors. He still ranks second in OSU career interceptions with 17, trailing only Mike Sensibaugh. Fred also shares the school record with three interceptions in one game.

The Buckeye great was selected with the 35th overall pick in the 1953 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. His six-year NFL career also took him to the 49ers, Steelers and Rams.

He ended his playing days with the Boston Patriots of the AFL from 1960-62, earning all-league honors twice. He was also cast in the role of player-coach with the Pats.

Fred proceeded to enjoy a record four-decade NFL coaching career. That longevity mark has since been erased by former Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Ironically, LeBeau replaced Fred in the Ohio State secondary after the Purple Rider headed to the NFL.

Fred coached with the Eagles (twice), Falcons, Buccaneers, Giants and Colts, retiring in 1997. He coached in one Super Bowl, assisting Dick Vermeil with the Eagles (1981).

He is credited with originating the safety blitz.

Hayes had a huge hand in helping Bruney enter the coaching profession.

“Fred’s wife contracted tuberculosis in the late 1950s. He came home to take care of her,” Dave Bruney said. “Woody told him he would hire him as freshman coach at Ohio State if he completed his degree. Fred did so. Fred also coached and taught at Ferry after he got his degree.”

The book, “A Better Man,” chronicles the life of many American heroes. Individuals such as President George Herbert Walker Bush and Ambassador Andrew Young Jr. are featured. Fred Bruney was also one of the special people highlighted in the book.

In it, Bruney details his association with Hayes. He said the legendary coach pushed his players to be the best on and off the field. He also became a surrogate father to his players.

Hayes was also a coach willing to give players a second chance, a trait that Bruney came face-to-face with.

In one game, Hayes sent a play in with a player who had not practiced the play. It did not meet with Bruney’s liking. He sent the player back off the field.

Hayes sent the player back in, and again, Bruney sent him off. They ran the play which came up short of the goal line as time ran out in the first half. Hayes lit Bruney up in the locker room and said if he ever pulled that stunt again, he would ask for Bruney’s uniform. The Buckeyes’ two-way star said the incident brought him back to reality and reinforced that Hayes was willing to give people a second chance.

Also in the book, Bruney stresses the courage of making the right choices and that might mean standing up to bullies, turning the other cheek or giving it your best when you really don’t want to be there at all. Bruney added that God gives us many opportunities and that it is up to us to make the most of them when they arrive.

Fred was honored as the Upper Ohio Valley Dapper Dan Co-Man of the Year in 1981 along with Tom Keane, former Wheeling Ironmen head coach and longtime assistant with Don Shula in Miami. Hayes came to the banquet, speaking on Bruney’s behalf.

Bruney has been enshrined in the OVAC Hall of Fame, the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor and Martins Ferry High Athletic Hall of Fame.

BUBBA’S BITS

CONGRATULATIONS TO River High girls’ basketball coach Rick Isaly. He has been selected to coach the Ohio North-South Division III-IV All-Star Game on Saturday, April 23, at Denison University at 2 p.m. Isaly will guide the South squad with Rob Davis of North Adams.

THE BELLAIRE Board of Education scheduled a special meeting for this morning. More than likely, the board will be naming its new head football coach. The board had 19 candidates to ponder. When the Big Reds win in football, the entire village comes alive. So the board’s decision is anxiously awaited.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S official signing day arrives Wednesday. As of this writing, LSU has the best projected class of recruits with Ohio State second. Michigan is third, Ole Miss is fourth while national champion Alabama is seventh. WVU is ranked 46th. The final six days of recruiting will yield a major shakeup in those rankings for sure.

CONDOLENCES GO out to OVAC Hall of Famer Richard “Lefty” Hall on the death of his mother.Lucille M. Hall, 99, of Barnesville, died Monday.

Kapral may be reached at bkapral@timesleaderonline.com.