Ramunno resigns at Mesa
After much deliberation, Colorado Mesa University and football coach Joe Ramunno have parted ways.
After 14 seasons, Ramunno officially resigned Friday morning. He was the second-longest tenured football coach in the institution’s history and won more games than any coach in the program’s history (80-77).
“It was a tough decision,” Mesa Athletic Director Butch Miller told The Daily Sentinel on Friday morning. “Joe handled it like he handles everything, with a lot of class. ... The beautiful thing about sports is you keep score and the bad thing is you keep score.
“The last couple of years have been hard on everybody and hard on Joe. He’s the most competitive guy I know. He will be hard to replace.”
Ramunno could not be reached Friday for comment, but in a release issued by the athletic department said “It has been an honor and privilege to coach so many incredible young men, who have worked so hard and with such class. I will truly miss them.
“I will miss the fine faculty and staff, students and my fellow coaches down the hallway. Every coach here has the right perspective and their first priority is the kids and their well-being.
“I have been lucky to be surrounded by so many good people and friends. I wish them all great luck and success as they move forward. I have no plans at this time, but will decide what is right for my wife, Sandy, and our two children, Niko and Calli.”
The players were shaken by the news.
Junior offensive lineman Trevor Stapp declined to comment other than to say, “Coach Ramunno is a great coach. It was an honor to play for him.”
“It’s tough,” redshirt freshman center Austin Bennett said. “It hurts everybody. The coaches recruited us. They’re a big reason I came here. Everybody is shook up.”
Miller said he understands how the players feel.
“The change is hard on the kids just like everybody else. Joe met with the team (Friday) morning,” Miller said. “We’ll ask our student-athletes to meet the new head coach and then make that decision (whether to return next fall).
“Hopefully they’ll stay together as a group and build on what Joe has built. He was on the right track and doing the right thing.”
Bennett said he hopes to continue to play for Colorado Mesa.
“I want to stay here and finish here,” Bennett said. “Not knowing who will be the coach is a tough decision.”
Associate head coach and offensive coordinator Shawn Marsh will serve as interim coach while a national search is conducted. Assistant coaches Bill Stafford, Darin Robidoux and Miles Kochevar have also resigned, Stafford confirmed.
“In terms of the other (assistant) coaches, it depends on who the head coach will be,” Miller said. “If they want to apply for those positions, they’ll have that opportunity.”
Under Ramunno, the Mavericks had six winning seasons, won two RMAC titles, made three NCAA playoff appearances and were the first RMAC team to win an NCAA Division II playoff game.
He was a two-time RMAC coach of the year and received the coach of the year award by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Colorado Chapter after the 2007 season.
However, the Mavericks finished below .500 for the third consecutive season (4-7, 3-6 RMAC) and went 31-45 the past eight seasons.
“Do we all want to win? Yeah, we’re all competitors,” Miller said. “That’s a piece of the puzzle.
“It’s about the student-athlete experience. We’re about the student-athlete experience. Winning is a piece of that pie. It’s a portion of it.
“At the Division II level, you have to stay healthy. (CSU) Pueblo has that one big donor. Does that help? You bet. It’s a combination. You’ve got to stay healthy and build it. I think we’re close. It takes a little bit of everything. Hopefully we can make it happen.”
The RMAC allows a maximum of 28 and a minimum of 11 full scholarships in football. In 2008, the last time the conference conducted a study of scholarship amounts, the RMAC average was 18.6. The NCAA Division II maximum is 36.
Miller declined to say how many full scholarships CMU’s football program has.
“When you look at the big picture, the team was young and was getting better,” Miller said. “Joe built a good foundation to build on. I can’t say enough good things about Joe. Change is hard for everybody. We have to look at how do we get better and try to build on what Joe built.”
The Mavericks won two of their final three games and went to overtime before losing to Chadron State in the final game of the season.
“This is just the nature of the business,” Stafford said. “You can’t be afraid of it. If you look at the season, with a couple breaks we’d be on the other side at 7-4 or possibly 8-3.
“If you look at how our younger kids grew, they matured. I encourage the kids to stick together.”
Ramunno took over the program in 1998 after leading Palisade High School to a state-record four consecutive state titles (1994-97) and was 79-31 in nine years at the high school.
At Mesa, Ramunno had three RMAC players of the year (Kurt Kissner, 2007; Jared Keating, 2007 and Andy Coryell, 2000), 17 All-Academic honorees and two ESPN The Magazine All-District award winners, CJ Smith and Seth Damron.
In 2007, the Mavericks’ defense ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (260.1 yards per game) and fifth overall in rushing defense (71.3 per game).
Montrose High School coach Todd Casebier replaced Ramunno at Palisade and led the Bulldogs to two consecutive state championship games and one state title before moving to Montrose.
“There is no coach in this part of the country that doesn’t know who Joe is, what he’s accomplished and the quality person he is,” Casebier said. “I guarantee you, nobody wanted to see this happen to a great guy. I’m sure he’ll reevaluate things. He’s a winner. He’ll find a way to move on.
“I know what it was like for Joe and his scholarship situation. (Mesa) will probably make it better for the next guy. To me, if you want a program to succeed, you need to find funds and he didn’t have the funds. Money is the name of the game. I feel bad for him.”