He made a difference

Coach Walter Brugh, Paintsville High School football coach for 44 years, passed away Feb. 11, 2014.

Coach Walter Brugh, Paintsville High School football coach for 44 years, passed away Feb. 11, 2014. Pen and ink illustration by Michael Brugh, 2006.

By June B. Rice

Last week Paintsville laid to rest a beloved citizen in an over-the-top celebration of a life that had touched hundreds, if not thousands, of young lives.

Walter J. Brugh’s own high school career was interrupted by World War II. He came back to Paintsville High School after the war was over and played football there until he graduated. He was too small for Bear Bryant’s football squad at U.K., so he had a distinguished football career at The Citadel. After graduating from college, he came back to Paintsville in 1951 and became a teacher/coach at his Alma Mater, becoming head football coach in 1956.

I joined the Paintsville High School faculty in 1950, but dropped out for six years when my daughters came along. When I came back to the faculty in 1957, Mr. Brugh was Football Coach and Attendance Officer, presiding over the dread “Bird Book,” so named because it had the picture of a cardinal on the front of it. We hated that book, because the attendance records we kept in it had to add up the same way vertically as they did horizontally and without an adding machine, sometimes a sneaky number could hide from us!

Mr. Brugh had a faithful assistant, Flossie Ward, who helped him keep all those numbers straight. After the computer showed up, the attendance record was a piece of cake.

Mr. Brugh was football coach, golf coach, and assistant coach of everything else, it seemed.. Since none of my children played football, golf, were cheerleaders or skipped school, I was not aware of how much good Mr. Brugh was doing as he saw to it that a child who did not have clothes to wear to school somehow got something to wear, or that he encouraged the youngsters in the lunchroom to eat all their vegetables because, one day, he wanted them to play football for him.

I wanted so much to attend the funeral but 185 miles is too far to walk. I had been a faculty member with him for about thirty years.

The town gave him a really wonderful funeral in the high school gym. Ruby Daniels, who is one of my FaceBook buddies, reported that all the Middle School and High School football players and cheerleaders, in uniform, sat with their coaches in a place of honor. Lester Lemaster played piano and sang, along with some other songs, “I’ll Fly Away” and “Go Rest High on the Mountain.” The congregation sang the Paintsville High School “Alma Mater”. The mayor, Bob Porter, (who was an outstanding athlete at PHS) issued a proclamation honoring Mr. Brugh for his 42 years as a coach. Rev. Larry Vickers, one of his football players, now a Methodist minister, conducted the service.

Several of his former players who are now distinguished doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen spoke as well as all four of his grandchildren and one son. Dr. Mike (the Missile) Minix, now a retired opthalmologist, and Joey Couch, both of whom played football at U.K. were two of the speakers.

I had tears in my eyes when I read that the funeral procession left the gym and circled the football field (which is several blocks from the gymnasium) before going to the cemetery.

I thought about the legacy of that teacher who made a decent living but never got rich; reared four talented, law-abiding children, had a lovely wife, was the winningest football coach in Kentucky in a little school that graduated about sixty or seventy students a year; stayed at the same place and taught honesty, fair play, toughness, fundamentals and hard work to generations of students for forty-two years. How many fatherless children he must have been a father-figure to, and what a difference that one teacher’s life made in the lives of those he mentored! The world is richer because of the lives he influenced to become honest, decent individuals.

Rest In Peace, Walter J. Brugh. You died a rich man. How proud your children can be of your legacy.

Coaching icon passes away

The (Ashland, Ky.) Daily Independent‘s Aaron Snyder wrote of Dad’s passing in the February 13, 2014 edition. He has kindly granted me permission to reprint it here.


Coach Walter Brugh, coach of the Paintsville (Ky) Tigers, for 44 years.

Coach Walter Brugh, coach of the Paintsville (Ky) Tigers, for 44 years. Paintsville High School’s all-time winningest football coach, Brugh died at age 87 on Tuesday night.

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:24 am
Aaron Snyder
The Independent

The legend of the “Blue Legend” will never fade in Paintsville.
Walter Brugh, Paintsville High School’s all-time winningest football coach, died at age 87 on Tuesday night.

In 39 seasons, Brugh was 280-136-5 with two state finals appearances. He became the state’s all-time leader in career coaching wins in 1993. He is currently 11th on the list, but still ranks atop all Kentucky Class A coaches.

Like with many great coaches, Brugh’s influence was just as impactful off the field.

“Beyond sports, coach was a gift to all of his players because he taught people discipline,” said John Porter, an attorney who has practiced law in Paintsville since 1970. He played for Brugh from 1957-62. “I bet if you could get a list of all of his players, 98 percent of them did real well in life.”

“Tough” and “hard-nosed,” Brugh’s ability to motivate kids propelled him into legendary status, according to Bill Mike Runyon, a longtime friend who played for and coached under Brugh.

Coach (Brugh) was a gift to all of his players because he taught people discipline.” – John Porter, former player and attorney.

“He would break you down, then build your confidence up to a level you never had,” Runyon said. “He and (late former longtime baseball coach) Charlie Adkins made me want to go into coaching.

“Those guys motivated me to stay here, with one school, as long as I have,” said Runyon, who has logged 36 total years of coaching various sports, most notably basketball and football, at Paintsville. The 58-year-old coached the Tigers to a Sweet Sixteen state title in 1996. “In the back of my mind, it’s always been like, I’ve got to do the same thing.”

Runyon spent 23 years on the sidelines with Brugh, in addition to the seasons (1971-73) he spent as a player.

Brugh guided Paintsville to state championship games in both 1978 and 1985. The Tigers fell to Fort Campbell, 15-13, and lost to Crittenden County, 14-6, in those games, respectively.

Runyon said while those gut-churning losses hurt, they didn’t wear on Brugh, who was inducted into the KHSAA Hall of Fame in 1991.

“Every play I draw up is designed to score a touchdown.” – Coach Brugh

“He took everything year to year,” Runyon said. “He just demanded perfection year-in and year-out. If that led to a state title, then so be it. If not, let’s go ahead and start working toward the next year.”
Brugh would tell Runyon, “Every play I draw up is designed to score a touchdown.”

“He wanted everything done to perfection,” said Runyon, adding that he always had his players in excellent physical condition.
Brugh had his favorite sayings, too, some of which can’t be printed, but Runyon divulged one, in particular, that resounds in his head.

“If we called a 44-power, which was the four-back in the four-hole, he’d say, ‘Get on up in there, hunny!'” Runyon recalled with a laugh.

“The thing I remember most about him is he could criticize you during a game, and actually make you like it,” Runyon said. “He’d chew you up pretty good, but after the game was over, he’d always give you a hug.”

Some of Brugh’s best players include Mike Minix, Tony Mayes and Joey Couch, to name a few.

Porter declared Minix as Brugh’s best player. Both Minix and Porter received football scholarships from the University of Kentucky.
Porter said Tigers players were expected to follow Brugh’s rules to a T.

“He was a real strict disciplinarian,” Porter said. “You didn’t drink or smoke, you couldn’t even drink coke, and you had to be home by 9:30. Sometimes, Coach would call just to make sure you were home.”

Brugh placed emphasis on execution and disclipine on the field, Porter said, and he “tried to make you very efficient.” He also had a gift for teaching punting, said Porter.

Brugh ran a variation of the wishbone offense, which worked remarkably for much of his career. The coach racked up eight double-digit win seasons, including five consecutive from 1976-80.
Brugh spent his playing days at Paintsville and The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, where he was a defensive back.
Shortly upon returning to Paintsville, Brugh’s storybook coaching career began.

“You knew that football practice started Aug. 1 every year back when he was coaching,” Runyon said. “If you gave any inkling to your parents that you weren’t going to play football for Coach Brugh, they’d probably kick you out of the house.”

Runyon said Brugh is synonymous with the town. The field also bears his name.

“You mention Paintsville, Ky., and I guarantee one of the first names that comes up is Walter J. Brugh,” Runyon said.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.