Former Ironton coach Bruney was ‘one of a kind’
Published 12:26 am Saturday, July 13, 2019
You’ve heard the old saying, “They broke the mold when they made him.”
Nothing could be more apropos when talking about former Ironton Fighting Tigers’ head football coach Bob Bruney who died earlier this week.
When you talk to former players, coaches, parents and fans who knew Bruney, they would say virtually the same thing about his character and it would end with “he was one of a kind.”
Bruney had a great high school career at Martins Ferry where he starred in football and wrestling. He went to Ohio State where he earned a pair of letters as a defensive back.
But it was his stint as Ironton’s head football coach from 1966-71 that brought him the most attention. He took a program with four straight losing seasons and helped lay the foundation for what would become one of the most prestigious programs in the state.
To say Bruney was colorful would be an understatement, but he was passionate and his enthusiasm wore off on those around him.
Bruney was speaking at a pep rally prior to an Ironton game against the Waverly Tigers. The sign read, “Our Tigers Can Beat Your Tigers.”
Bruney said, “They’re the Tigers, but we’re the Fighting Tigers.”
The nickname stuck.
It has been said Bruney was tough and that was something that the late, great Ohio State Buckeyes’ coach Woody Hayes said to former Ironton coach and athletic director Mike Burcham, who was a close friend of Bruney.
“Woody said Bruney was one of the craziest guys he’d been around, but he was also one of the toughest and he was a hard worker,’” Burcham said.
There were things Bruney did that would raise eyebrows today or not sit well with the Political Correctness Police.
In a pregame speech, Bruney grabbed a trash can lid and hit himself in the forehead, cutting a gash and causing blood to come streaming out.
“I told Bob he needed to wipe his forehead and put a bandage on it or something. He said, ‘No, I need the kids to see it. I thought we were kind of flat and I was trying to think of a way to fire them up,’” recalled Burcham.
There was another occasion when Burcham went to the barber shop on a Saturday morning after an Ironton game on Friday night.
Burcham was sitting and waiting his turn while the man in the chair was lathered up for a razor shave. A man came in and sat down and began to lambaste Bruney.
“He went off on Bruney and basically said he was stupid and didn’t know what he was doing. His language was a little stronger than that,” said Burcham.
“I tried to get the guy to be quiet and the barber was shaking his head and trying to signal to the man to be quiet.”
The man in the chair got up, walked over and laid a hard punch to the man’s face that knocked him out of his chair. The man who was in the chair ripped off the barber cloth and walked out the door with shaving cream still covering half his face.
“I tried to tell you to be quiet. That was Bruney in the chair,” said Burcham.
There are plenty of Bob Bruney stories, some that aren’t as colorful and some that can’t be printed.
But regardless, Bruney was a hard worker who helped turn the Ironton football program and Martins Ferry around and put them in an upward direction.
“Bruney believed in having a lot of numbers and he did. We had over 1,000 kids in the high school at one time and Bruney had a freshman team and two jayvee teams,” said Burcham.
“But the thing about Bruney was he showed the kids he cared about them. He was tough and he had discipline, but he had 70 kids out for football. He didn’t care about himself or his record. He just wanted the kids to succeed.”
Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune. Email firstname.lastname@example.org