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‘Coach News’ from a Former Home

January 12th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Football, Hong Kong, Sports Journalism, The Sun, UAE

I was a history major in college before I opened the door to the offices of the student newspaper, in my fourth year of school, and that was that.

Had I not gone into journalism (and it is hard to imagine I wasn’t going to end up there), I would have tried to make history a career. Somehow. Teaching it, maybe? Writing it?

As it turns out, I’ve been a sort of sports historian all along, preoccupied with records, interested in rises and falls of coaches and organizations, prone to spend an hour or two with microfilm to write about an event from 1925, searching for the last surviving member of some long-ago team.

Perhaps it was limiting myself … well, absolutely, it was … but a part of me had decided I would be the sports historian to California’s largest and most bizarre county, and before I was gone all the interesting bits of it would be on record. Somewhere.

Luckily for me, I was booted out of SoCal journalism about 10 years short of finishing The History of Local Sports” … and since then I’ve done gigs in Hong Kong and the UAE, and now I’m not sure I ever will return to the U.S. permanently.

Which is a long preamble to noting that a kid I covered as an athlete has been chosen to coach a prominent high school in my former stamping grounds.

Meaning, the new “Coach Fazio.”

I will try to keep this from turning into a particularly long off-the-top-of-my-head recollection of decades of comings and goings involving dry and dusty towns in the Inland Empire, but so many facts on the topic remain accessible to my mental hard drive …

Vinny Fazio is the guy who has just gotten the Eisenhower football job. Two former colleagues were kind enough to alert me to this, last week, and a third has just now sent me the link to a Q&A he did with Vinny.

(Thanks, Dennis.)

Let’s back up a generation. The flagship for what was about 15 years of “Inland Empire as prep football hotbed” began at Fontana High School. Dick Bruich was the coach, and Skip Fazio was usually his defensive coordinator.

Fontana’s Steelers (the city was home to a Kaiser Steel mill into the 1980s) were the dominant program, and the coaches there became regional celebrities.

Bruich and Fazio formed a fine partnership, and they won about 90 percent of their games for most of 20 years. Then they had a falling out, the origins of which I no longer recall, and wasn’t quite able to make out even when I had heard it explained. Which lends some spice to what comes all these years later.

Kurt Bruich, the coach’s son, went through the Fontana program at its zenith, in the mid-1980s, and he was a very effective receiver, defensive back and special teams guy, and he quickly moved into coaching, like the old man.

Vinny Fazio came along about a decade later, and played linebacker for Fontana, a position that was as important there as it was at, say, Penn State … and he was quite good at it, as well. He was a bigger kid than Li’l Bruich, and if he wasn’t the sort of berserker ‘backer commonly associated with Fontana (“Guys who ain’t scared a nothin’,” as Dick Bruich would put it, during his long “just folks” period), he was no less effective. He may not have killed opponents with fear, as did some of his Fohi predecessors, but he was a very heady player, and no shrinking violet, certainly.

Interestingly, Vinny later revealed an interest in covering sports events for my paper, and he actually was good at it.

I can assure you that the fraction of really good high school football players (never mind linebackers) who can go to an event, perform the basic reportorial functions, return to an office and write a coherent game story … well, it’s a tiny, tiny fraction. So small as to be statistically irrelevent.

So. Here we are, 10-15 years later, and Vinny is coming along in the wake of Kurt Bruich’s rise in high school football. The latter has turned Redlands East Valley into a recurring SoCal power, and that school had done basically nothing in football until he arrived.

Now, Vinny Fazio is running things at Eisenhower, which was Fontana’s arch-rival for 20 years. Back when the Citrus Belt League really mattered.

What will be interesting is to see how Fazio the Younger fares against Li’l Bruich, over at REV — schools in the same league. It may be ugly for a year or three, given REV’s current high standing, and Eisenhower’s current low, but …

Like his father, Kurt Bruich has cultivated an image as a sort of anti-aesthete. A regular guy who just happens to run the neighborhood football team but isn’t such a football pointy-head that he gets in his own way.

Skip Fazio, however, always had a sort of “mad scientist” vibe to him (the thick glasses were part of it, certainly), and while removing the crudely physical from the job of defensive coordinator is not possible, he had the sort of bookish look that allowed one to believe he spent a lot of time looking at film and scheming you (as well as beating you) to death.

Vinny has that, too. If you followed the link to the Q&A, you will see Fazio the Younger wearing some sort of hipster glasses. He looks like a guy who might have been a foreign correspondent, had he not had football. With Li’l Bruich, who is as maniacally intense as his father, “coach” or “career military” seemed like the only feasible employment options.

It would have been fun to have been around to watch this. Given what I saw and remember.

I leave it to others, in these diminished days of print, to get it on the record and link it to the past and find context, and given how few reporters are chasing too many teams, well … good luck, guys.

But find out when REV and Ike meet, soon as you can. Get that onto your calendar. Send me the links, please. Thanks.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Bill N. // Jan 14, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    Looking forward to that one (if I’m still going out to games)… Ike was pretty bad the only game I saw them (in the rain) this past season (and woefully under represented on the sideline).

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