Eagle Valley’s John Ramunno retires
Eagle Valley’s John Ramunno, the school’s head football coach since 1981 and wrestling coach from 1981-1998, announced on Friday that he is retiring.
Ramunno, now 58, the son of Steamboat Springs coaching legend Carl Ramunno, and oldest of the three Ramunno coaching brothers (Tony, who most recently coached at Lewis-Palmer, and Joe, who now coaches at Palisade), has been an institution at Eagle Valley.
His wrestling teams won state titles in 1982 and 1992. His football teams, running his signature double-wing, won league titles at the 1A (1984), 2A (1995, 1997, 2001 and 2002) and 3A (2005). The Devils had qualified for the state playoffs two of the last three years, so he goes out on high note.
“It’s such a hard call to make,” Ramunno said on Friday night. “I’ve been going back and forth and doing the pros and cons. I value the opportunity these guys gave me to work with so many kids. I can’t believe how many kids tell me I touched their lives. I feel like so many of them have touched my life. It’s hard to walk away.”
Ramunno cited the experiences his father Carl’s last years at Steamboat Springs and his brother Joe’s experience resigning from then-Mesa State in 2011 after 14 years at the helm, along with the fact that his youngest son, Mike, is graduating this spring, as tipping the scales.
“I remember one time we beat Steamboat in a dual up there and (my dad) had some parents on him and I was thinking, ‘That’s not right,’” Ramunno said. “He didn’t get to go out the way he should have. He won six state (wrestling) titles and had six runner-ups. A lot of what I’ve done is because what my dad and Tony and Joe helped make me.”
Eagle County School issued a press release on Friday afternoon, announcing Ramunno’s decision. It was filled with glowing praise.
“John’s departure marks the end of an era for the football program,” the release said. “Without him, there would not have been the many victories on the field and guidance to so many young men who are grateful to call him ‘coach.’”
“John is a consistent coach who works from the mind-set that kids come first on and off the field,” said Tami Payne, school’s athletic director, in the release.
“John Ramunno is someone who has meant so much to our community,” Greg Doan, the school’s principal, also said in the announcement. “It’s tough to put into words or even quantify the impact he has made. It was always more than wins and losses for coach Ramunno. He truly valued making a difference in the lives of others.”
Pictures on the wall
In a bit of irony, Ramunno spent Friday up in Steamboat Springs, watching his son Mike play lacrosse against his high school alma mater. Ramunno played football and wrestled at Steamboat Springs before going to Western State, from which he graduated in 1979.
His first year on the sidelines was as a student-assistant at Steamboat Springs during the 1979-80 school year. The Sailors won state in football and wrestling with brother Joe starring on both squads.
Ramunno moved to Gypsum became an assistant football coach at Eagle Valley when the school was playing as an independent. Again, in a bit of irony, the Devils had been a struggling football team which had dropped out of its league to rebuild, much like Eagle Valley’s archrival, Battle Mountain, is doing now.
The Devils went 6-2 in 1980, and in 1981, Ramunno moved to the head-coaching spot, not only in football, but wrestling.
“The principal came in and told me, I was coaching wrestling,” Ramunno said. “He didn’t ask. He just said I was coach wrestling. I was wondering how I was going to do both.”
The answer was very well. On the mat, the Devils won the state title in 1982. Meanwhile, Eagle Valley football was on the way back, finishing 11-2 in 1983, finishing second in the 1A Gore League, a precursor to today’s Western Slope, behind West Grand. The 1983 Devils lost in the state-title game to Silver State Baptist, 14-10.
In a testament to Ramunno’s longevity in coaching, West Grand now plays 8-man football, and Silver State does not have a high school any more. The 1983 squad was the first of five 10-win teams Ramunno coached on the gridiron. All five squads have their team picture on the wall of his office.
In 1984, the Devils won the first league title of Ramunno’s tenure. Ramunno’s squad struggled as the school moved to 2A. One of the amusing tales of the time was that John and Joe had their teams, Eagle Valley and Palisade, play each other in the early 90s. The first game was close, but Joe was building a powerhouse in Palisade, one that exists to this day. The second game was a rout, and that was it until the Devils moved up to the 3A Slope.
With John, Tony and Joe all coaching, family gatherings ended up being football-themed.
“One time, we all met up for Thanksgiving and everybody brought game film,” Ramunno told the Vail Daily’s sister paper, the Glenwood Post-Independent, in 2010. “We went downstairs and were all watching. That’s the last time it happened. It wasn’t good for any of us. We spent too much time, but it’s a great learning thing when we all do get together.”
Titles at 2A and beyond
With the double-wing, an absolutely ancient yet effective offense that confounded opponents and Eagle Valley fans alike, the Devils returned to the top of the heap in the 2A Slope in 1995, 1997 and with back-to-back titles in 2001-02.
And to clarify one of the great urban legends of Eagle County high school sports, Ramunno never said, “If I lose to Battle Mountain, I’ll quit.” This myth was cited often in Devils-Huskies annual affair, in which Ramunno experienced both highs and lows.
The 1985 encounter was particularly noteworthy. Played on the last week of the season that year, the winner went to the 2A playoffs. Jeff Campbell’s Huskies ruled the day, 34-0, and Ramunno is likely still pained by that. (When interviewed about that game, his normal low voice went even lower.)
The Devils won very meeting between the schools from 1998-2008. The Huskies ended that run with three in a row from 2009-2011. Ramunno and the Devils took the final rivalry games of his career, including a 35-12 decision last fall.
Just one year after moving up to 3A, the Devils had one of their best seasons winning their only 3A Slope crown to date. Eagle Valley went 9-1, including a long-anticipated thumping of Palisade — Joe was at Mesa State by that time — during the regular season. The Devils advanced to the quarterfinals before losing at Steamboat Springs on an unusually muddy field, which was replaced by turf the next year.
“This turf field has been here nearly 10 years,” Ramunno joked of Friday’s Eagle Valley-Steamboat lacrosse game.
Eagle Valley, under Ramunno’s guidance, has taken its lumps in the deep 3A Slope since the 2005 title, but returned to the playoffs in 2012. As the 14th seed, the Devils crushed No. 3 Frederick, 34-8, in the playoffs that year.
“Every year, you pull up a few memories,” Ramunno said. “During my son Rick’s senior year, we had the win against Frederick. Those kids will never forget that. I had a kid on the bus tell me, ‘I think this might have been the greatest day of my life.’ When a kid tells you that, I still get goose bumps.”
The Devils managed one last fantastic moment for Ramunno last season, beating Delta, 18-7. The Panthers had made the state semifinals the previous season.
Ramunno said that he nearly retired after the 2009 season, but the chance to coach Rick and Mike, whom he’s raised with his wife, Cindy, was too tempting.
Ramunno says that his brother Tony, who stopped coaching before last season, gave him some advice on not being involved in football.
“My brother did it last fall,” Ramunno said. “He said to try and schedule things, plan outings with my wife. He said there was so much to do. He couldn’t believe how beautiful falls were when you’re not watching film 24/7.”
It will be an adjustment, nonetheless. Ramunno has been in football in some form since he was in the fifth-grade.
“There is a special moment coaching before a game,” he said. “The energy is so powerful in the wrestling room or the locker room, when you know the kids are with you. It is electric.”
“I’ll be giving Cindy pre-game speeches on the deck,” Ramunno joked.