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.