Craig Bruno, the only football coach to ever win playoff games and state championships at Bunnell High School, will be named next head coach at Naugatuck High School.
Bruno, 44, played at Bunnell in the 1980s and was elevated to head coach in 2001 to replace his mentor, Bob Mastroni.
He leaves as its most decorated after 12 years, four state playoff appearances and two state championships.
Bruno says he began thinking about his future shortly after the Bulldogs finished 3-7 in 2012, his second losing season. Naugatuck is closer to Bruno’s home in Oxford, where his daughter will begin high school in the fall. It also presented a new challenge.
“I felt that I’ve accomplished all my goals in place I built,” said Bruno, who is also the athletic director at Bassick. “I’m leaving this situation on good terms. I have a lot of great feelings and memories there, but I felt at this point in my life had to make a change.
“I feel good about this. It’s 10 minutes away from my home and I’m excited about a new professional challenge.”
Bruno takes over at Naugatuck after a tumultuous 2012, which saw the school embroiled in a recruiting scandal involving former coach Rob Plasky and Sacred Heart receiver David Coggins. Plasky resigned in August. The Greyhounds went 6-4 under interim coach Shawn Kuczenski.
Bruno beat several candidates, including Woodland offensive coordinator Tim Phipps. He said he is not certain if he will remain as Bassick’s athletic director.
Naugatuck last went to the state playoffs in 2010. But that was its first appearance in 10 years. The Greyhounds havent’t won a state championship since 1993. It’s last NVL title came in 2010, but it has only beaten arch rival Ansonia three times since 1987.
“All the reports about Naugatuck are very good,” Bruno said. “The school is committed to football and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to build new era for myself and new career and help a new school move into a direction we want to go.
“Obviously, the challenge at Naugatuck is immense,” Bruno said. “To go from playing Stratford every year to playing Ansonia is a bit of a change. It’s definitely going to be difficult to win on Thanksgiving but I know what they’re about. I’m obviously great friends with (Ansonia coach) Tom Brockett. I’m looking forward to practice and I can’t wait to get started.”
He’ll meet with Naugatuck’s player next week.
But Bruno said he is leaving his alma mater with a heavy heart.
He starred as a linebacker there from 1982-1985 under Bob Mastroni and later came back as an assistant. Athletic director Dave Johnson elevated Mastroni’s pupil to head coach in 2001.
As good a a coach Mastroni was regarded in town, Bunnell had never been to the state playoffs.
Bruno brought his own brand of football to the region. His teams became know for their unorthodox, aggressive style: always going for 2-points, attempting fourth-down conversions at traditionally inopportune times, odd formations and elaborate trick plays.
His players thrived in it. It took Bunnell just two years to qualify for the school’s first state playoff game. The program never had a losing season until going 4-6 in 2009.
Bunnell’s signature win came in his fifth season. Behind quarterback Steve Smith and Michael Easley, Bunnell upset Staples 28-26 in the 2006 Class L Championship.
“The day we won the championship, it forever changed the way the school and the program would be looked at,” Bruno said. “It wasn’t about me, it was about our team. I’ve told my players so many times, `You will never play there again without playing under the past history of winning a state championship.’”
In 2007, Chris Sloat and Mark Harrison led the Bulldogs to the best season in school history. Bunnell went 13-0 for the first time, earning the No. 2 ranking in the state media poll. It defeated Masuk 22-14 in the Class L title game.
At one point, Bunnell won 21 consecutive games under Bruno.
He’s been honored as the Connecticut Post’s Coach of the Year in 2006, Walter Camp’s Coach of the Year and the MSG Network’s Tri-State Coach of the Year in 2007, and the New York Jets’ Coach of the Year in 2003.
“Honestly, I did not I felt when I got there we’d have the success that we did,” Bruno said. “All of the all success was really humbling and it was a tremendous ride. I still have great relationships with players I coached and the people around Bunnell. It’s a sad day for me in sense, at same time it is the opening of a big opportunity. I’ll never forget the all the great memories.”
In a rare meeting, Bruno and Naugatuck will face Bunnell in Week 6 of the 2013 season.