Palisade hires former coach to lead Bulldogs again
Palisade football players, prepare to work harder than you ever have.
That’s the Joe Ramunno way, which worked well when he coached the Palisade High School football team from 1988 to 1997, leading the Bulldogs to four straight state titles from 1994 to 1997. And Ramunno’s approach will become the Bulldogs’ way again as he is returning to the Palisade sideline as the head football coach.
Palisade Athletic Director Mike Krueger announced Wednesday the high school hired Ramunno, who parlayed his previous success with the Bulldogs into a 14-year stint at Colorado Mesa University. After Ramunno resigned as Colorado Mesa’s coach in November 2011, he served as an assistant coach at Palisade last fall.
The opportunity to return as the head coach surfaced in late January, when Palisade decided not to bring back John Arledge, who posted a career mark of 69-22 in eight years. Arledge guided the Bulldogs to an 8-3 mark last season, which ended in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs. The Bulldogs reached the playoffs every year under Arledge.
Ramunno in early February said he would talk with Palisade about the job, but he also wondered if he was the right fit all these years later.
“I kind of had my Cinderella story there,” he said at the time.
The more he thought about it, though, the more excited he got, and friends and family made it clear he had their support.
“A lot of people who meant a lot to me said to get back into it and get going with it,” Ramunno said Wednesday. “The main ones are my family — my wife Sandy, my two kids Niko and Calli — (they) really pushed me to go ahead and go for it. When you hear that, it’s coming from home, you really have the urge to get back into it. It was a win-win thing for us.”
Expect Ramunno to resume doing what made him successful previously at Palisade: Work harder than everyone else.
That was the prevailing sentiment Wednesday from people who played for him and coached for him: No one outworks Ramunno or his players.
That’s not to say other coaches don’t get their players to work hard. Ramunno is just at another level, according to Darrell Simonton, a Grand Junction High School teacher who played football with Ramunno at the University of Wyoming, then served as an assistant coach for him for several years at Palisade and for one year at Colorado Mesa.
“He’ll outwork you,” said Simonton, who was Ramunno’s first defensive coordinator at Palisade and stayed through 1993. “Where it started out at Palisade, he started a weight program that was like no other. And he went in there and lifted with the kids, and those kids got strong. And you get those type of kids strong, they’re going to be tough for you. And he got them mentally tough.”
Pat Steele experienced it first-hand and said of Ramunno, “He’s a guy, he gets players to run through brick walls for him.”
Steele played four years under Ramunno, 1990 to 1993, and he said the work ethic started in the weight room, where Ramunno lifted alongside the players, leading by example. And when players thought they had no more energy to do another set, Ramunno convinced them they did.
“He gets right in there and makes a believer out of you,” Steele said. “He’s going to get you to do things that you didn’t know you could. You’ve just got to trust him and push yourself to do it.”
In addition to the weight room, Steele said back in the day Ramunno would join the players in the morning as they ran hills on the Bookcliffs.
“He set the example of how football players should work and what was expected,” said Steele, who has been an assistant football coach at Palisade for the past nine seasons. “He lifted with us every day and basically set the tone of what we needed to do there. ... I was a freshman, and he taught us what that work was supposed to look like. And, man, did it make a lot of great seasons after that as a result.”
Central High School football coach Shawn Marsh joined Steele in saying Ramunno turned around a program that hadn’t had much success in the years leading up to Ramunno’s arrival. And Ramunno’s first year was a rough one, as Simonton recalls it being a one-win campaign.
“I remember him building those teams … and they had a great group of kids that were willing to work hard, but Joe and that coaching staff did a great job of leading that group of kids and getting everything they can out of them,” said Marsh, who was an assistant coach for Ramunno at Palisade and later at Colorado Mesa.
Ramunno will start his second go-around with the Bulldogs with an established program, and he thanks the other coaches over the years at Palisade for the jobs they did in making Palisade football consistently excellent. He said he hopes last year’s assistant coaches will return, because he gained immense respect for them last fall.
He also looks forward to coaching the blue-collar kids that Palisade provides. It’s easy, he said, to get them to buy into working hard because it’s ingrained in them.
Steele said that’s an element of success Ramunno always understood: The hard work develops players.
“He knows that football and football programs are about the players, first and foremost, hands down, that’s what it’s about,” Steele said.