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Casa Grande football coach Brunk resigns

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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.”

Brunk doesn’t leave without a lump in his throat.

“I’m really going to miss the kids,” he said. “I had some special players and I’m going to miss them. I’m also going to miss my staff. I had a great staff, and they loved the kids.

“I’m still going to be there for the kids. I still want to help those who want to go on to play in college.”

Brunk doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to coaching. “I’m keeping my options open,” he said.

He will also be around the Casa football field since he has a freshman son who plays football for the Gauchos.

Backman said he isn’t concerned about the need for a third coach in three years after just two — O’Brien and Herzog — had led the football program for the previous 23 years.

“The program is well poised to move forward,” he said. “We have an excellent culture with an emphasis on teamwork, family and educating the whole student/athlete.”

The principal said Antonio was chosen “for the sake of continuity,” while the school opens the position for all applicants in accordance with state and district rules.

“We would like to hire a permanent coach as soon as possible,” he said.

Antonio is well known to the Casa Grande students and staff as well as to the Redwood Empire coaching fraternity.

He was an assistant coach under Herzog at Casa Grande, assisted Gary Galloway at St. Vincent and was head coach at Piner High school from 2011 to 2015.

He is a Petaluma police officer and is currently serving as a school resource officer at Casa Grande.

He was selected St. Vincent head coach last spring, but left that position to devote time to personal obligations, and was replaced by Herzog.