MF’s Bob Bruney was a teacher for era of coaches

MARTINS FERRY — Three things come to mind when you think of Bob Bruney: Martins Ferry, football and toughness. You had to be tough to play football for Woody Hayes.

The Purple Rider Hall of Famer died this past week at the age of 77. He leaves behind a legacy of success as a player, coach, administrator and family man.

The 1960 Ferry grad starred in football, wrestling and track for the Purple Riders. He compiled a sparkling 22-1 record as a senior grappler, winning an OVAC championship and placing third in the state tournament.

It was football, however, where he gained his greatest fame as a running back/defensive back.

Bruney’s all-state grid honors had major colleges come calling for his services. Woody won out and Bruney went on to earn two letters for the Buckeyes while being a part of the Scarlet & Gray’s 1961 national championship squad.

After picking up his OSU diploma, Bruney launched a lengthy career in prep athletics.

He enjoyed a stint as an assistant at Wilmington before taking the head reins at Ironton in 1966. The Tigers have been long known as a football power. Such was not the case upon Bruney’s arrival.

Ironton went 0-9 and 1-9 the two seasons prior to his taking over.

He turned the Tigers into winners in just his second season. His final campaign at the Ironton helm was in 1971, guiding the Orange & Brown to a 9-1 mark and a fifth-place state poll ranking. The OHSAA playoffs did not commence until the following year.

His six-year stay laid the foundation for Ironton grid greatness.

He left southern Ohio for the head coaching job at Brookfield, turning the Ironton program over to Bob Lutz, who became the winningest coach in OHSAA grid annals with more than 300 victories at Ironton.

After a short tenure at Brookfield High, where he again turned a punching-bag program into a winner, Bruney opted to return home to Martins Ferry.

Bruney took over a struggling Purple Rider football program in 1974, much like he did at Ironton and Brookfield. He held the Ferry post for five seasons. He instilled stability, accountability and a sense of winning to Purple Rider football, again putting the pieces in place for future Purple Rider gridiron success.

After going 26-24 in this five years as head coach, Bruney stepped down after the 1978 campaign. He was succeeded by his cousin, Dave Bruney, who took the ball and scripted a Hall of Fame career on the Purple Riders’ sidelines.

During his time at Ferry, Bruney also served as head wrestling coach and athletic director. He was accorded the OVAC’s prestigious Mr. Mat Award in 1995. He was enshrined into the Martins Ferry Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1997 and in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bruney spawned a coaching tree at Martins Ferry second to none.

It was a football staff of all-star proportions.

“I did coach under Bob, along with Dave Bruney, Rich Weiskircher and Vince Suriano. Bob definitely helped to mold our foundation as head football coaches,” John Magistro said. “Longtime Martins Ferry products, Larry Duck and Bob Zilai, were also part of a coaching staff that I felt was the cream of the crop. I truly enjoyed those days.”

Magistro, of course, went on to lead Bellaire High to unparalleled heights while Weiskircher built a juggernaut at Marysville. Suriano, meanwhile, turned Cincinnati Anderson into a big-school power.

“Bob gave me my start in coaching by hiring me to the Martins Ferry football staff in 1974. He was a great teacher who cared deeply about the players,” Suriano said. “He taught us all how to build and run a football program. I am forever grateful for having had the opportunity to coach with him.”

Of all his assistants, no one was closer to Bruney or knew him better than Dave Bruney. The latter lauds his predecessor as a great teacher of coaches.

“Bob brought us all on board and put together a great staff. We all learned a tremendous amount of football from him. Bob taught us organization, preparation for practice, a new way to grade players and paying attention to detail,” Dave Bruney said. “Bob was a terrific player at Martins Ferry who went on to play at Ohio State. He taught us how to work hard and how to be honest and up front. He told us to be careful on what you say because you have to own up to what comes out of your mouth.

“Martins Ferry was not real strong in football when Bob came back. But he made football fun again at Martins Ferry. He made it cool again to play football at Ferry. His passing has been very emotional for us. It feels like you lost part of yourself.”

I was fortunate to call Bob Bruney a friend, although I did not get to know him until his coaching days were over. I am not even sure how we struck up our friendship.

But anytime we met it would lead into a long and enjoyable dissertation by Bob on some aspect of football and life. He was truly engaging and refreshing. I relished spending time with him as he always placed me in a better frame of mind.

“All of Bob’s decisions were based on what was best for the most. It was a great lesson,” Dave Bruney said.

The world would be a much better place if more people shared that Bob Bruney premise.