The end of an era, and the beginning of two?
So, the first time I interviewed John Ramunno was after Eagle Valley football had just lost to Meeker, 7-6, in October 1997.
The Devils had the ball within the 10-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in. And scared out of my wits, I asked, “Coach, did you think about going for the field goal?”
Ramunno answered, “Well, Chris, we couldn’t block worth a (bleep) on special teams tonight.”
That’s why you gotta love the guy.
It’s been a wild week in football with Ramunno retiring after 34 years as the head coach in Gypsum and Battle Mountain’s Kevin Meyer walking away one day earlier. There is an irony that Eagle Valley is having its first football-coach search since 1981, while Battle Mountain is looking for its ninth in the past 18 years alone. That explains a lot about why Eagle Valley is what it is in football, while Battle Mountain aspires to such success.
Musings on all things Devils and Huskies football:
• OK, true story. Whoever ran the P.A. system at Hot Stuff Stadium was explicitly not allowed to play Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.”
• Ramunno was a head coach for 51 seasons, 34 in football and 17 in wrestling, as part of a winnowing breed of multi-sport coaches who coached a winnowing breed of multi-sport athletes. More than wins and losses — and there were more wins than losses — Ramunno has been a part of more student-athletes’ lives than most teachers can hope to reach.
And make no mistake; while he is a walking football encyclopedia, Ramunno gets it. The football field is just another place at school to learn. Good years and bad, Ramunno was molding men.
• OK, true story, in 2006, it really looked like the Eagle Valley-Battle Mountain game was going to be a close one. (The Devils had kicked the snot out of the Huskies for the entire decade to date.) Just for fun, former Daily sports writer Ian Cropp and I wrote side-by-side pieces of why each team was going to win. My prediction was Huskies 35, Devils 27, with a comment about how Eagle Valley’s kicking game was inconsistent.
Naturally, the Devils won with 35 points on the nose and kicker Miguel Holguin made every extra point. First thing Ramunno says to me is “35 points and the freshman kicker went 5-for-5.”
Coach Ramunno apparently reads the paper. He didn’t say it in a mean way. He knew we were just hyping the game, but he enjoyed that moment, as he should have.
• I have heard it from everyone, “Coach Ramunno has got to stop with the double-wing and modernize the offense.” Vetch, vetch, vetch.
You all are wrong and this is coming from a guy who grew up in San Francisco in the 1980s with the Niners’ dynasty and the West Coast Offense.
Sure there’s the old saying, “When you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad.” But it’s more than that. Even if you have a kid with a rifle for an arm, you need someone who can catch the ball.
This may seem like I’m being snarky, but I’ve seen so many high school teams try it, and it doesn’t work. Even in an era when the spread formations are all the rage, nothing beats three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust (or those little black rubber things that come flying out of turf).
The beauty of the double-wing is its simplicity to implement and its difficulty to defend. Sure, it doesn’t work when a team is small, but, if a team is small, then there are going to be a lot of problems, the least of which is the scheme.
And when you have the beef and a few special backs — say, like a Sean Mattheson or, last year, Riley Rowles — holy cow, it’s a glorious thing to watch.
Look around the Slope during the past five years. In 2011, Battle Mountain had the tools and the coach to be a flying circus. Then-coach David Joyce was ready with quarterback Jake Engle to air it out. They couldn’t catch the ball.
The Huskies ran the double-wing and so well I thought I was in Gypsum, instead of Edwards. (Seriously, the only difference was the helmets were black instead of silver.)
And look down Interstate 70 to the Rifle Bears. Damon Wells and company run the same offense and the team is 44-7 with two state-title games during the past four years. Ramunno stuck with it because it works.
• OK, true story. In ye olden days before wireless Internet, assorted reporters of the Vail Daily would have to race into the old faculty lounge of Eagle Valley to get to the fax line to phone in game stories. We, being the likes of Sam Flickinger, Ryan Slabaugh, Nate Peterson, Ian Cropp and I would be frantically typing away to meet deadline. Ramunno would be wandering in and out, still pumped about the game and still talking about it while one of us was trying to file. It was annoying, yet endearing. The guy just loves football so much.
• As his sons Rick and Mike grew up, I would see John at every lacrosse game. (By the way, I accidentally called Rick, “Rock” in a football preview story one year. John kind of took a shine to it. John’s better half, Cindy, vetoed the name change.) My bet is that John doesn’t get the finer nuances of the game. It doesn’t matter. He was always there, his distinctive profile across the field, watching his boys.
Always gracious in defeat, humble (but talkative) in victory, it’s been a joy, John. Retirement is well earned. And try to go easy on Cindy in the pregame speeches on the deck.
The revolving door continues
• “You’ve got to be kidding me,” was my initial reaction when I heard the news of Meyer stepping down at Battle Mountain. I understand and support Meyer’s decision. Family comes first. Meyer also has an opportunity to coach at Beatrice, Nebraska, with a long time friend, and he’s near all sorts of family. It makes sense.
As always with all things Battle Mountain football, it does make people think, “Here we go again.” And, yes, Eagle Valley, that thought is one of many reasons you should be grateful to have had Ramunno for so long. Stability is a beautiful thing.
• Battle Mountain has to move on from this. It’s going to be summer before you know it, and the Huskies will need to be working. The 2015 season is not going to be the cakewalk it may seem. The program is also just one year from returning to 3A. Meyer helped the program take the first step back. The next step is actually beating a 3A squad this fall. That takes work and a coach.
• Battle Mountain also needs to solve its weight-room issue. Yes, I’ve been hearing about this a lot. Dear Huskies, every team in this state has found a way to get a weight-room program going. This is not rocket science, people. Make it happen.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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