Q and A with Dave Bruney …

MARTINS FERRY — Family, memorable games and players and even a look at the 2018 Martins Ferry Purple Riders

All of those topics and plenty more were discussed when Dave Bruney sat down with The Times Leader recently after his retirement from coaching football.

You have to figure, when you’ve spent more than 40 years doing something, you’ve come to the point where you’ve done and seen a lot.

Here’s the interview with Coach Dave:

TL: Well, now that it’s been almost two months since your formal retirement, how has life changed?

DB: Really … very little. I’ve been down here (at the field) helping out a little bit with the weight program, spent some time encouraging the players and I even helped to pass out helmets. Cheryl and I have spent some more time with the grand children, and one huge plus is that she’s not done me any physical harm yet because she retired also.

TL: When you officially came to grips with the decision that it was time, how often did you change your mind?

DB: Not many. It does feel strange. We’re trying to help and support – without getting in anyone’s way – as much as we can. We’re trying to gradually ween ourselves off of it. I am a history buff, and to quote George Patton, ‘old soldiers never die. They just fade away.” That’s about how I feel.

TL: You retired in May, and I am guessing this wasn’t a wake up one morning and that was it kind of decision, so what led to the timing to do it later in the school year?

DB: We had some issues to get through, and I am just going to leave it at that. We weren’t sure how to proceed after that exactly until later in May. We were encouraged to take more time – both by our administration and our assistants. The decision was, needless to say, very, very difficult and very emotional. It still is at times, too. We thought it was the right thing for everyone involved. Seniors are only seniors once and we didn’t want to be a distraction.

TL: Having said that, what was the winter like? Did you know you wouldn’t be coaching in 2018 or did you kind of think the juices or mojo, if you will, would get kickstarted during the course of the offseason?

DB: I didn’t think about not coaching until as time went on. Dirk Fitch ran the weights for me in January and I started coming toward the end of January and then he went to track in February and I was good. Even a couple of weeks after I did retire, I was involved. The juices never really stopped, but it was just a matter of what would be the best for everyone.”

TL: When you formally handed in your letter of retirement to your respective school administrators, what was the feeling like?

DB: It was kind of surreal. It was hard to get the words out. It was like 45 years, counting the years as an assistant, like it had lasted 15 minutes. That part was tough. Because, it’s like, ‘My goodness. Where did the time go?’ But, it was fun. You have so many good times and never ever felt like I went to work a day in my life. Couldn’t wait to get here. The passion for the game, players, coaches and our community was special. We still have that, too.

TL: Camp is just a few weeks away, how weird will it be not officially taking part in a football camp?

DB: Strange! Counting nine years as a player, come August 1, I was a part of something bigger than myself for 54 years. I don’t know what it is to go through August without a football camp. The last time I didn’t have August football practice to go to I was 12 years old. It’s going to be very different, to say the least. I always felt like we were working to not only be as good as we could be as a football team, but to give our players lifetime memories and lessons they could refer back to during their personal lives.

TL: You are one of the winningest coaches in the state of Ohio, what, if anything, would you do over again if you had the chance?

DB: Not much. Although, when I was thinking about it, when I was younger I had some really great coaches with me. Dirk Fitch for 34 years, Rich Weiskercher, Vince Suriano, Tom Suriano, Buzz Evans, my brother, Bill; Merwin Bowdish when I was at Bridgeport and I don’t think I let those guys do enough. When I was younger, I tried to do everything myself. Looking back at it, we probably would have been better if I had been smart, or secure enough in myself, to allow those guys to do more than they did. Don’t get me wrong. They did a lot. I wised up as I went along in my career and I think we were better because of it.

TL: When you look back on your coaching career, what do you deem your proudest moment?

DB: There are a lot of them and I don’t know to single one out. But, some things that stood out in my mind are coaching two sons who worked very hard, and I was very hard on them, in developing into fine players. Another thing that stood out was having all three of my children present me for induction into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, especially my daughter, Ashley. She was able to reduce me to tears in the two minutes she spoke. She was really something and other coaches in the room, that night, commented on how special her remarks were. I had two boys who were all-Ohio players and (Ashley) might have been a better athlete than both of them. Another thing that sticks out, and I can close my eyes and still see this, in 1979, we went undefeated. My mother wasn’t in very good health and during the victory parade by Fatty Joseph’s bar, she was standing in the crowd. She blew me a kiss. That seems like last night to me. Some other things are helping with the upgrades and improvements to our facilities. They were absolutely horrendous for years, but finally – with the help of a lot of people – we got this place to where it is. Watching Chad Brinker run over Nail Diggs on the goal line at Ohio Stadium and he ran flat over him. Both of my boys were with me and they said, “Dad, did you see that?” I said, “I sure did.” Obviously, we had some OVAC championship teams, great playoff teams and all of those seasons are special. I’d slight someone if I mentioned anyone by name.”

TL: Obviously, you’ve coached a bunch of really talented players, who’ve gone to be successful people. How much do you value the personal side of coaching?

DB: I think it’s why you can have longevity. If you don’t enjoy the personal relationships and be willing to do a little bit more for your players, I don’t know you’re in coaching for the right reasons, particularly in high school. Interscholastic athletics are pure, so the relationships you build last a lifetime. I don’t think the impact a high school coach can have can be overstated. I was fortunate to have great mentors. Those guys were all great coaches, but for the most part, all were great family and community men, too. They were guys you didn’t want to disappoint. Plus, I was fortunate to come from a great family. Really, all I had to do was pay attention to the people I was around. I am not sure everyone’s that fortunate. My best assistant has been my wife, Cheryl. She’s the most mentally tough and strongest person I’ve ever known. She’s a rock.

TL: When you think about the Bellaire game, is there a year, other than 2017 and the 700th win, that really sticks out to you? And if so, why?

DB: The respect that we’ve always had – both the school and community – was always like looking in a mirror because I always felt that respect was mutual. The communities mirrored each other. There were Blue-collar, hard-working, family-oriented people, so it was like playing your brother. If you know my brother, Bill, he’s the most competitive person I know. That’s how my family felt about the Bellaire game. If you were fortunate enough to win, you felt a sense of accomplishment through realizing and respecting how hard they worked to give themselves an opportunity to beat us. From Jake Olsavsky, to Mike Sherwood, to John Magistro, to the Bonar Brothers and now Mark Spigarelli, we respected all of those guys as coaches and men. The most important thing to me is as friends. All of the years stick out. Some were wins and some were losses. The 1994 season when Bellaire was undefeated and we were playing very well and finished 8-2. We beat them here, 35-27, and I thought both schools, that year, were good enough to win the state championship and neither of us got in. I always thought that was a shame. All of them were great game. Some we won, some we lost.

TL: While coaching so many talented players, I am guessing you had guys on your team from time to time who weren’t very good players, but continually showed up each day, worked their rear ends off and made themselves better than their original skillset would have. How rewarding were those types of stories as a coach?

DB: Not time to time, but every year. Those are the most important guys on your team if you’re going to have a good team. That’s the most rewarding part and I think those kids appreciate the time. I used to tell our guys that there’s nothing noteworthy about wanting to win on Friday night. Everyone wants to win on Friday night. I wanted to coach guys who wanted to win on Christmas Eve, on their birthday, on a snow day and a lot of those kids who were average or below average had that type of drive in them. They were willing to do what they had to do. It’s not hard to coach Chad Brinker, Fred Ray, Jay Wallace and those types of types of guys. You just have to point those guys in the right direction and get out of the way. The average kid is so important because they have to do the little things and fundamentals so well to maximize the talents God gave them to work with. The time, concentration and effort that takes is tough for a lot of people to grasp. The most gratifying experience for me was the average kid who works hard and ends up being a little bit better than average. That kid you look at him as a freshmen and wonder if he will ever get on the field, and then his senior year he makes a play to help us win a game. To see that look on that kid’s face because he knew what it took to do that and he knows that I knew what it took. The average kids who really want to excel, have that drive and then they have that moment of success, it’s so rewarding. That’s the essence of coaching.

TL: Not talking about strategies and such, but how has Ohio Valley football changed since you became a head coach? And do you foresee continued changing?

DB: When we first started, most of our players came from stable, two-parent launching pads where values were taught. Character, work ethic, conduct, education, discipline and responsibility were not just demanded, but expected. Your community, school and family were all important to you and you didn’t want to do anything that reflected poorly on those things. Those ideals were taught in the home and, for the most part, during those years we just had to worry about coaching football. You’d have an individual or two year to year, but the last 20 years it’s gotten progressively work. The kids haven’t changed, but their environment has changed. Many come to us and have never heard of those aforementioned qualities. Many are raising themselves, so we’ve done more mentoring the last 20 years. We felt our players needed the lessons of football and the things that football can teach you. We felt some kids needed the lessons more than football needed them. Sometimes you had to win a kid’s trust that you care about them and once you’ve earned that trust, they’ll let you pull that good kid out. I don’t think the impact of high school coaches can ever be understated.

TL: You interviewed or considered a few other jobs early in your coaching career, do you ever ask yourself, ‘what if I had taken that job at xxxxxx?’ Either way, if you did or didn’t, why?

DB: We had an opportunity to leave for “bigger job” on a number of occasions. But, when it got right down to it, we’ve always loved Martins Ferry. We were dedicated to this place when we returned. Bob Bruney started Martins Ferry on the way back to consistency as a respected program and that’s what we wanted to accomplish. My senior class had three different head coaches and during my senior year, I thought, ‘if I ever have the opportunity (to coach here), Martins Ferry kids aren’t going to go through this again.’ We had nine kids on the team my senior year who played college football and we won two games. That was disappointing to me. We wanted to be respected, consistent program that had an identity. We developed that. We had great kids, assistants, administrators and a community. We never had any ifs or buts, but always concerned, year in and year out, how can we be a little bit better each year? We were happy to be here and help kids from Martins Ferry.

TL: Your wife has been such a huge part of your career, how big of an impact has your retirement had on her?

DB: She made tremendous sacrifices throughout the years. She just retired as an operating room nurse for over 40 years. She would always schedule her work around our kids and family. Many times, she’d work 3-11 and stay on call, so she wouldn’t have to work on Friday to bring our kids to the games. The impact of a coach can’t be understated, but the impact of a coach’s wife on his career can’t be understated in either a positive or negative way. She sacrificed for me, our kids and for our family in general. I hit the jackpot marrying her.

TL: Provide a brief synopsis of what Martins Ferry fans can expect, in your opinion, of the 2018 Purple Riders.

DB: From being around (the field) a little bit, Chas Yoder and his staff are doing a terrific job, working very, very hard at it. They’re organized, they have a plan and they’re working to execute that plan with our players. Chas is a tough-minded coach with a great work ethic. I think he will do a great job. I think the fans can expect to see a tough, hard nosed, blue-collar type team week in and week out.

TL: Lastly, be honest. Did you and Jay know each other would retire on the same day?

DB: Absolutely not. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Jay retired that day, too. I had known and I am sure he knew it was in the offing for both, he and I sooner than later. I knew when I heard Jay retired too that everyone was going to think we were in cahoots on this. But, that wasn’t the case at all. I didn’t have a clue it would be the same day.


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