Bruno brings fresh blood, excitement to Naugatuck’s sidelines
Editor’s note: This article appears in the special Thanksgiving football section published by the Citizen’s News the week of Nov. 29, 2013.
Sometimes you just need to start from scratch. When Naugatuck hired Craig Bruno as the new head coach of the Greyhounds football program in January, the school’s administrators knew they were getting a coach who had been to the mountain and conquered it.
In 12 seasons at Bunnell of Stratford, Bruno guided his alma mater to an astounding 94-36-1 record and won back-to-back state championships in 2006 and 2007. He reached the state playoffs four times, his Bulldogs reeled off a school-record 21-game winning streak and he had only two losing seasons in a dozen years.
Naugatuck, meanwhile was coming off a tumultuous campaign. The ‘Hounds lost former head coach Rob Plasky to a recruiting scandal just two weeks before the start of the season and handed the reins to interim coach Shawn Kuczenski, the defensive coordinator.
The Greyhounds survived the battle and compiled a 6-4 campaign. But Naugatuck needed a fresh start and a new beginning. Enter Bruno, complete with his unorthodox, aggressive style and a proven track record.
Soon after Bruno accepted the job in January, he knew he had to build a strong coaching staff around him to help get the Greyhounds back into the championship conversation.
“I know the importance of a coaching staff, and you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” says Bruno, who lives in Oxford with his wife and two daughters. “I’ve been doing this quite a while and wanted to bring some of my guys with me, but I could only bring two.”
That left three gaps for Bruno to fill, and he had ideas in mind for whom he was looking.
“Essentially I needed to bring three more guys on board,” Bruno says. “I wanted to bring in a defensive coordinator, I wanted a coach who understood team loyalty and I wanted to retain a coach from Naugatuck to help bridge the transition.”
Bruno set out and secured the services of former Pomperaug and Southington coach John Pereira as the defensive coordinator. Pat O’Rourke came with Bruno from Bunnell and former Seymour coach Nick Teodosio soon joined the staff.
“John and I coached against each other when he was at Pomperaug and we had some pretty good battles over the years,” Bruno says. “I knew what kind of work ethic he had and how he was able to relate to the kids. I did some football camps with Nick and I got to know what kind of coach he was and how he was a team-orientated guy.”
But Bruno says the key to bringing this all together was the addition of Tom Tousignant, the man who ties Naugatuck’s present to its past.
“Tom came highly recommended by Naugatuck High School and he helped to bridge that transition,” Bruno says. “I’m so glad I picked him to stay on staff.”
Tousignant, a 2007 Naugatuck graduate and three-year member of the previous staff, came in when these seniors were just sophomores on the junior varsity team. He grew into his role as a coach and the players grew into their roles on the field.
“I feel a special connection to the kids, especially the seniors as I came in when they were sophomores,” Tousignant says. “It has been a tremendous experience watching them grow as football players.”
Under the direction of the new coaching staff, the team has come together as a unit. What made the biggest difference early on is that the players appeared to be having fun after such a stressful situation last season.
“The main thing Coach Bruno talked about when I came on staff was team loyalty — buying into the program and what we were going to do as a football team,” Tousignant says. “The entire staff has come together as one and we know we have each other’s back. Coach Bruno is an excellent coach. He has such a passion for the game that it’s overwhelming. The kids just get caught up with it and the intensity level just goes up.”
Bruno is mindful of the fact that the fans and the entire borough of Naugatuck is watching how the team progresses. He is also mindful of the fact that this team is excited, playing with emotion and having an awful lot of fun along the way.
“The fans have shown tremendous support for the team and the kids are having fun,” Bruno says. “The kids are confident in themselves, they are confident in me. This is probably the most fun I’ve had in my career.”
Of course, it hasn’t been all roses for Bruno.
“If there is one complaint I have, it’s colder up here — as a matter of fact it’s a lot colder up here than down in Stratford,” he jokes. “But the kids are all excited and that’s what makes this such a fun atmosphere to be around.”