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New Casa coach wants to build on success


Denis Brunk rebuilt the Santa Rosa High School football program over the course of two seasons. As the new coach at Casa Grande he doesn’t intend to rebuild the Gaucho program, but to build on what Trent Herzog has already created.

“I have a lot of respect for Trent,” Bunk, 51, said. “He did a great job at Casa Grande. I want to continue where he left off.”

Brunk said that in the two weeks since the announcement of his hiring, things have been going well.

“The transition has been going smoother than I expected this week,” he said. “Kids are kids and they are going to continue to move forward in school and in sports.”

Brunk said the parents also have been supportive. “They are putting the kids first and not their personal beliefs or emotions,” he said.

Brunk was named to replace Herzog after the popular former coach was surprisingly dismissed, creating an emotional tide of protest from players and parents.

The new Casa coach said football is important as more than a sport. “Football is a tool that exposes character,” he explained.

But football isn’t nearly the most important thing for the coach. “It is about being students first and football players second,” he said.

At Santa Rosa, all his players maintained scholastic eligibility last season, the first time that had occurred in 16 years at Santa Rosa.

He said being a coach is more than teaching football. “A coach is a big part of the players’ lives and that means in more than football,” he said.

He bases much of his coaching philosophy on what he learned from his own high school coach, Gary Delepere, at Tomales High School.

“He was my mentor, but more,” Brunk said. “He was like a father. I learned a lot from him. He is a big part of my life.”

After Brunk helped coach a Colorado team to the state championship in 2008, he saved a state championship T-shirt for his former coach and, when he moved back to the Bay Area, presented it to Delepere.

After moving back to the North Bay when his wife, Tammy, took a job in St. Helena, Brunk served as an assistant coach at St. Helena High School until the Santa Rosa job opened two years ago. He consulted with several people, including Herzog and Casa Grande line coach Frank Giamona.

Delepere, a former Santa Rosa head coach and athletic director, told him the challenge of coaching at Santa Rosa High School was that it was coaching at an inter-city school in an area with open enrollment, which meant the school did not always attract the best football players.

Brunk accepted the challenge. His first team finished 2-8. Last season, the Panthers were 6-6 and even won a North Coast Section playoff game, defeating Northgate, 48-25.

He said leaving was not easy. “It was very hard telling the players and writing my letters of resignation to the principal and AD,” he said.

He explained that a big reason for the change was so his family, which had bought a home in Petaluma a year ago, could be closer to his wife’s work. She is now a professor in nursing at Sonoma State University and also teaches part time at the University of San Francisco.

It also meant less of a commute for him. He is a representative for a company that helps develop laundromats, based in Pittsburg. He notes that because of the nature of his job, he has the time necessary to devote to the demanding chore of coaching a high school football team.

The Brunk family includes sons Michael and Isiah, daughter Madison and 13-year-old son McKinley.

Michael played lacrosse and football in college and now works on tug boats in the Gulf of Mexico. Isiah Knight-Brunk is an adopted son who is playing football in his sophomore year at Carroll College in Montana and studying environmental science. Madison is a freshman volleyball player at St. Thomas University in Miami. McKinley is a seventh-grader at St. Rose School in Santa Rosa who will attend Casa Grande High School when he is a freshman.

Brunk has met with returning players and is supervising weight training.

He hopes to have his staff in place by the end of next week. He said he has already settled on one of four varsity defensive coaches, three out of four offensive coaches, one junior varsity coach and a freshman head coach.

He explained that his coaching choices are important because he gives his coaches a great deal of authority.

“I’m really big on my coaches making decisions,” he said. “My job is to guide; their job is to make the decisions, I want coaches with the same philosophy — people who will make the best decisions for our program and our players.”

The new coach said he plans to have the Gaucho offense work out of a spread offense, primarily because it will allow him to use the players to the best of their ability.

“The kind of team you have always depends on what athletes you have in the bag. In a spread offense you can use either a single back or a two-back set and you can utilize the passing game if you have the athletes or a running game if those are the athletes you have.”

This season’s football schedule is already set, but Brunk said he definitely wants to play top-quality opponents. “I want to play Division I and Division II teams. I want to play people who will help us get into the playoffs,” he said.