CANTON TWP. — Zac Bruney loved life in Columbus.
He was the associate head football coach and offensive coordinator at Ohio Dominican, which won a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and made the NCAA Division II quarterfinals a few years earlier. He and his wife, Amber, had just become the proud parents of twins, Quinn and Decker.
Life sometimes takes you in different directions. In Bruney's case, it has brought the 36-year-old Martins Ferry native home to tackle one of the biggest challenges of his career.
A former quarterback and two-time national champion at Mount Union, Bruney was hired as Wheeling Jesuit University's first head football coach in July. The Cardinals plan to play an exhibition schedule in 2018 and play their first full season as a member of the NCAA Division II Mountain East Conference in 2019.
"I was in a good situation," Bruney told the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club on Monday. "We enjoyed being in Columbus. I enjoyed my job. I wasn't looking for a head coaching opportunity."
As Bruney said the day he was hired, college football head coaching opportunities are fleeting. The rarest of opportunities is starting a program and building it from the ground up.
"The decision was right, the move was right and the timing was right for our family, Bruney said. "We're going to try to do this the right way.
"How do you build a program? How do you start from ground zero? I have no idea. We're taking it on one day at a time."
Bruney currently has just one assistant coach. Brandon Robinson coached with him at Ohio Dominican before he went on to Lindsey Wilson, an NAIA team in Kentucky.
Speaking at the luncheon club was not Bruney's sole purpose for being in the area Monday. Recruiting already has started.
"I was in Dover, New Philly and Claymont high schools this morning," Bruney said. "I'll leave here, go to Massillon, go to Perry and go to Alliance to see some kids. Tomorrow I'm going down to the D.C.-Baltimore area.
"We're trying to make our mark and put our stamp on as many areas, meet as many coaches and talk to as many young men as possible. We're taking it on, grabbing the bull by the horns and rolling right now."
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The Cardinals will play in an on-campus stadium used by Wheeling Jesuit's soccer, lacrosse and rugby teams.
How long will it take to build a consistent winner? How long will it be before the Cardinals are a perennial playoff contender? The future for start-up programs is unpredictable.
"The hardest thing about starting from scratch is selling the unknown," Bruney said.
WJU Tackles Coaching Selection – Names Martins Ferry Native Zac Bruney Football Coach https://t.co/6KXpMXgy1q— WJU Athletics (@WJUCardinals) July 17, 2017
Bruney was a backup quarterback on Mount Union's 2001 and 2002 NCAA Division III national championship teams and went 27-1 as a starter from 2003-04. He also was a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy as the most outstanding player in Division III.
The Bruney name is well known in the Wheeling area. His father, Dave, has been the head coach at Martins Ferry since 1979 and is a member of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His uncle, Fred, was an All-Big Ten halfback at Ohio State and went on to play in the NFL with the 49ers, Steelers and Rams.
Now Zac hopes to make an impact in the area he is quite familiar with.
"The thing I'm most excited about is hopefully winning games, promoting our university and promoting the area I'm from," he said. "Doing it the right way, and being a source of pride and a point of happiness and joy for the area I'm from and the university as a whole."
This article is written by Mike Popovich from The Repository, Canton, Ohio and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.