Denis Brunk, head football coach at Casa Grande High School for just two seasons, surprised many when he announced his resignation last week just prior to the varsity team’s awards program.
Former Casa Grande assistant coach John Antonio has been named interim head coach while the search begins for a permanent replacement.
Brunk stressed his departure was made for personal reasons as he pursues his masters degree in sports management.
“It was my decision,” he said. “I might have done both (coached and worked on his master’s degree), but I couldn’t have given my heart and total interest to coaching the way I feel I should.”
He explained that he is coming into a crucial period in his masters program, and needs to put in 400 hours of internship before next spring.
Meanwhile, he still works full time as head of a sales department for a company that develops laundromats.
He acknowledged that a secondary part of his decision was because, “The administration (school) and myself have different goals.”
He did not elaborate, but was quick to add, “It is all very positive. There are no bad feelings. I consider Eric Backman (principal) and Stephen Owens (assistant principal) my friends.”
He said that reports of some staff members being harsh with players in practice “were never brought up during his meeting with administrators.
“My coaches are committed to raising young men with integrity,” he said. “They are here because they love the kids and they love the game.”
Backman said the decision was a “mutual one.”
“Denis did exceptional work during a period of transition and I’m proud of the culture he was able to create,” Backman said.
The principal added that he was “very proud” of the athletes for the way they had handled the transition.
Brunk came to Casa Grande after a successful two-year stint at Santa Rosa High School at a critical juncture for the Gauchos, who were reeling following the unexpected firing of popular head coach Trent Herzog.
He took over a program divided, and led the Gauchos through the difficult transition. It wasn’t easy.
“It was a challenge,” Brunk admitted. “There was a lot of outside negative influence, but in both years we were in the playoffs. A lot of good things happened.”
His initial Casa Grande team lost its first six games, but then rallied to win its next four, including a victory over Montgomery in the North Coast Section playoffs.
This season was similar, with Casa Grande losing its first four games before going 4-2 in the new Vine Valley Athletic League to finish in third place and again make the playoffs.
Included in the Gaucho wins was a 37-36 victory over Petaluma in one of the most exciting Egg Bowls ever played.
His overall record at Casa Grande was 8-13.
Casa Grande Athletic Director Rick O’Brien acknowledged Brunk’s contribution in a difficult situation.
“He did a great job for our program,” O’Brien said. “From Day 1 he instilled in our athletes the importance of being student athletes, which is a top priority for all our athletic programs. He is a true professional.”
Backman agreed that Brunk’s emphasis on academics was an important imprint on the football program.
“A big part of his hiring was his focus on academics,” the principal said. “We have had more athletes remain eligible in the last two years than we’ve had in a number of years, and I’m really proud of him for that. It was really great to see a number of students who have had trouble remaining eligible in the past remain eligible for the entire season.”