Bruney, Ferry will always be synonymous

MARTINS FERRY — When Dave Bruney announced his retirement as Martins Ferry’s head football coach in May, he did so at the facility that bears his name — The Dave Bruney Football Complex.

Having a facility named after you, in itself, is an honor. But what really touched Bruney was what took place in the minutes, hours and days after he stood on the turf there with his family at his side.

Bruney, who retired after 39 seasons, heard from a plethora of former players, coaches and friends, who offered congratulations on his career, which is legendary, not in the Ohio Valley, but across the state.

“They talked about the impact they think we had on their lives,” Bruney said recently during a sitdown at his home.

Bruney said “we.” During most of the conversation, he spoke more about assistants than himself. For him, his journey has been one of togetherness and integrating many factors that have produced a solid resume.

“Life skills, integrity, character, work ethic … everything that goes into making a person a successful person,” Bruney said when asked about what defines success.

Bruney led the Purple Riders to 275 of the program’s 700 victories, the last of which came at Bellaire’s Nelson Field last fall.

Consistency was a hallmark of Bruney’s squad. Since 1990, Martins Ferry produced just one sub .500 squad. And, along the way, the Purple Riders qualified for postseason play in 14 of his final 20 seasons.

“The kids’ expectations were always high,” Bruney said, “and we had kids that were willing to work as hard as they could to maximize their potential. To me, we’d already won by doing that.

“Even if you don’t win a game, maximizing your potential and playing together as a group and putting your teammates first is the essence of high school sports, in general, not just football.”

The name Bruney, in itself, exudes Martins Ferry football. Coach was 8 when he attended his first Martins Ferry-Bellaire game and from then on he was steeped in the Purple Rider tradition.

Family members up and down his tree have some place in Purple Riders lore, and when “Coach Dave” put on the jersey for the first time in the mid 1960s he joined an illustrious list of men who did so with pride.

“I’ve been lucky to have been around guys where all I really had to do was pay attention and be mindful of how those guys conducted themselves. That ties into the tradition here at Martins Ferry.

“The tradition was part of our culture and our family and our community.”

While Bruney’s coaching days were filled with victories, his playing days weren’t.

During Bruney’s final three seasons — 1966-68 — Martins Ferry won two games, both coming in 1968, a season in which Bruney was a captain.

“We had three different coaches in those three years — Carl Mamone, Pete Barren and Larry Coyer — and they were all pretty good.”

Bruney had praise for all of them.

“I can remember just how he carried himself,” Bruney said of Barren “He had an assistant that played at Clemson, Bill Miller, and those two guys just carried themselves in a way that when you looked at them you thought ‘I just wanna be like those guys.’ I never wanted to disappoint those guys.”

Coyer, after two seasons at Ferry, went on to a successful college and pro career, notably with Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay and Mike Shanahan in Denver.

“We had six guys in my senior class that played major college football and three juniors that did,” Bruney said. “We weren’t very good, but it was because we changed coaches three years in a row.”

Bruney vowed, that if he ever became a head coach, he’d do his best to bring stability.

“I had in my mind that if I ever had an opportunity to eventually come back and coach here we were going to give some consistency to the program. I think we did that. We had great support as far as (the administrators) allowing us to bring guys in that were good coaches, good men and good role models.”

After playing at Ohio University, Bruney returned to the OV and cut his coaching teeth at Buckeye North in 1973.

In 1974, he made his way back to his alma mater as an assistant for his cousin, Bob.

Early in 1977, Bruney accepted a graduate assistant position at Marshall. It was about that time that he and his wife, Cheryl, started dating.

Following a season in Huntington, Bruney returned to the Ohio Valley, accepted his first head coaching job at Bridgeport.

“We had great coaches and great senior class,” Bruney recalled of his time in Brookside. The Bulldogs finished 9-1 in 1978 and posted victories against Ty Fleming’s St. John outfit and yes, his alma mater.

“It was bittersweet,” Bruney said of defeating the Purple Riders. “My cousin Bob and I had coached all of those kids before I left. Bridgeport had a great senior class and Martins Ferry had a great junior class.”

When Bruney accepted the head job at Martins Ferry a year later, he led the Purple Riders past the Bulldogs, 18-6, part of a 10-0 campaign. Bruney started his head coaching career 19-1. Piece of cake, right?

Not exactly. Although Bruney believed he had a pretty good plan in place.

“We always felt like we had to play great defense and we had to run the football,” he said. “If you do that consistently, you develop an identity and your kids develop an identity and the community’s identity is developed into that.”

Martins Ferry went 4-6 in 1980 before posting seven and eight victories in the next two campaigns, respectively.

“People think you have this magic wand,” he said. “It varies from year to year.I think the kids will give you everything if they know how much you care. That part of it has been very good to us over the years. I never treated anyone different than my own two boys (Zac and Trevor) and I was awfully hard on them, maybe to a fault.”

Bruney’s legacy lives on in those he mentored. And while he shied away a bit from saying he has a “coaching tree,” there’s no question there’s many coaches in the area who’ve benefited from being on a Bruney staff.

“When you hire guys, you hope they aspire to be as good a coach as they can be,” he said.

“Those are usually the guys who have aspirations of being a head coach and want to learn and learn how to teach the game.”


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