“Many describe Jim Bruni as a man and a coach who was loved by all of his student athletes.” Brian Corcoran Class of 1970
Jim Bruni was more than a coach. He was a true leader who was capable of captivating his players as he taught them the fundamental skills of basketball and life. His approach not only improved the success of the individual but ultimately the Ridgewood High School teams as well. Jim’s love of basketball had an immediate impact on his players when they walked on the court. But to his credit he instilled a lifelong appreciation of the game to each and everyone. Interestingly, with all his success Mr. Bruni was quite humble, at times even to a fault.
Coming to Ridgewood from Bogota, Jim brought a style of coaching that was ahead of his time. His understanding and ability to teach the fundamental aspects of basketball resulted in Ridgewood’s best overall winning percentages of all time. Records starting from 1927 show that Jim’s record of 110 wins vs. 54 losses, a winning percentage .671, is the highest in Ridgewood High School history. He is the only coach to have more than one season with a better than .800 winning percentage. In fact he had three, the three best! Inductee Frank Mozeleski 44-45 season was 15-3 .833, and John Smith’s 80-81 season was 22-4 .846. However Bruni’s 64-65 team 22-3 at .880 is the schools all time high. Jim continued his expertise with the 65-66 team a 20-4 and .833 then the 69-70 at 22-4 coming in at .846. One can only imagine if Jim Bruni remained at RHS how the basketball program wins would have accumulated. I think it is fair to say, “There was not a better basketball coach at Ridgewood High before Jim Bruni and there has not been a better basketball coach since Jim’s last day as Ridgewood’s coach.”
Jim had a unique talent to demonstrate a technique in its smallest terms. He would teach, literally, a step by step progression. His practices were detailed and thorough. He would segment the offense and defense into fine tuned periods that eliminated any wasted time. One of his sayings and a goal for his players was “STERLING.” If players heard coach Bruni exclaim “sterling” they knew they had performed the offensive play or defensive denial to his satisfaction. However, Jim was more than just a fundamental coach. Jim had a unique ability to analyze opposing offenses and defenses and design a successful game plan often confusing other coaches. Often, coaches throughout the county would consult with Jim about basketball theory and techniques.
Lee Clark, long time Bergen County coach expressed these thoughts of Jim: “Jim Bruni was the best basketball mind I have ever come across. A coach could get more basketball knowledge from Jim than he could from major college clinics. He was a great coach and a better person.” Additionally, according to Lee, Coach Bruni had an opportunity to be a high school head coach in 1956. He passed on the position because Jim was more concerned about being properly prepared and not short changing his players than he was about being a head coach. Truly admirable!
Hubie Brown coached football, basketball and baseball at Fair Lawn High School. He coached numerous NNJIL contests against Jim and Ridgewood basketball. He then progressed to the collegiate level, first at William & Mary , then Duke and ultimately, to the NBA. A two time NBA Coach of the Year, Hubie is also enshrined in the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. While at Fair Lawn he remembers Coach Bruni as a “brilliant” coach. On numerous occasions they would meet at Ridgewood’s famous Al’s and Harry’s dinner and talk basketball. Brown commented, “Jim Bruni was the best with X’s and O’s and was a great mentor to many. Jim Bruni was recognized, not just in Bergen County, but throughout the state as a brilliant basketball coach.”
More importantly Coach Bruni was loved. He had a way about him, that caused students to seek him out and become mesmerized listening to all he had to say. Extremely blunt and factual Jim was loved because everyone knew he sincerely cared. Students and athletes alike knew Coach Bruni leveled with you never being concerned about being politically correct. Whether a student, player, coach or official sought his advice, Jim Bruni laid it all on the line giving always giving his honest assessment. Jim cared about basketball and Jim cared about his player’s deeply. As hard as he could be in demanding perfection in each of his charges, it was accepted because all knew Jim cared about bringing out the best in each individual.
Coach Bruni had a talent establishing goals for his players and instilling a personal pride of performance. This was a unique talent in the days before individual lesson plans and IEP’s became a common element in the educational landscape. A testament to his effectiveness in coaching the individual was reflected in his players constant communication with him seeking his council. This occurred no matter how much distance lay between themselves and the coach physically, from a time perspective or both. Coach James (Jim) Bruni is certainly a worthy inductee to the Ridgewood High School Athletic Hall of Fame. He touched and changed hundreds of student’s lives with his wisdom and insight in what may be considered a short, but exceptionally bright career at RHS. Coach Jim Bruni is a shining example for all that is good with the teaching and coaching professions and serves as an outstanding model for all who wish to follow in his footsteps as an educator, coach or mentor to others.