Brad Kunz may have lost the commemorative T-shirt and hat he had in hand that January evening in Pasadena, but he figures the tradeoff was worth it.
“Joaquin Gonzalez told me to get my helmet on and go in for him. He wanted to help carry coach (Larry) Coker off the field,” Kunz remembers.
A redshirt freshman from Carlyle, Ill. — population 3,600 — who walked onto the 2001 Miami University football team the previous year, Kunz dropped the souvenirs and did as he was told by the two-time All-American senior right tackle.
Time was winding down in the Rose Bowl and the Hurricanes were running out the clock in a 37-14 win over Nebraska that wrapped up the national championship.
“I got in for the last play of the game,” said Kunz, unable to find the shirt and hat in the celebratory mass of humanity afterward.
He still has his championship ring. It’s one memento Plano’s new head football coach — he was named to succeed Jim Green in late February — wears sparingly.
“One of the first things everybody asks me is about the ring,” said Kunz, who served as an assistant at Plano the past three years. “I’ve worn it a couple times on the sidelines for good luck, but then we lost once while I was wearing it. I haven’t worn it (during a game) since.”
Those 2001 Hurricanes, undoubtedly among the best college football teams ever, eventually produced 17 first-round NFL draft choices. The 6-foot-7, 300-plus pound Kunz was not one of them, but that kneel down by QB Ken Dorsey — while somewhat Rudy-esque — did not define his playing career.
“I mostly played special teams, field goal protection for the next three years,” said Kunz, who played in the national title game the next year, too, when the ’Canes were upset by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
“My junior year I was the sixth man (in the O-line rotation), the first sub. I could play all five positions but that hurt me, being a jack of all trades and not a master of any.”
It continued his senior year.
“There were a couple younger guys who are currently NFL All-Pros, so they wanted to get them in,” Kunz said. “I was told, ‘You guys are about the same but this is gonna benefit the program a lot more to have them in there than to have you in there.’
“At the time, I didn’t understand it. Now I do. As a college coach, you recruit and you make promises and you have to live up to those. And since I was a walk-on …”
Maybe he should have known, having seen the picture before. Kunz, whose older brother by 12 years, Phil, played basketball for Illinois in 1987-88, thought he would end up in Champaign. Ron Turner’s staff recruited him but never offered.
“They just signed guys they didn’t think they were going to get,” he said. “Miami called and said they had an academic scholarship that would pay for most of my school until I earned a football scholarship and that’s what happened. Fortunately I had the grades.”
He dislocated a knee during pre-draft workouts following his senior season that likely cost him a chance at signing as an undrafted free agent, but Kunz did play professionally for three years in the Arena Football League and, briefly, the Canadian Football League, before beginning his teaching and coaching career.
Kunz earned his degree with a double major in history and English at Miami and completed his student-teaching requirements at SIU Edwardsville when he played in the AFL.
He and his wife Melanie (Ukovich), who grew up in Minooka and played volleyball at Purdue, haven’t started a family yet but he looks forward to being on the same schedule as his kids.
“I figured out I wanted to coach while I was in college and my mom taught second grade and I always enjoyed the fact we had the same schedule when we had vacations,” he said.
While he’s been influenced by some big-name coaches — three from the 2001 staff are now NFL head coaches, Chuck Pagano (Arizona), Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay) — Kunz said his work with Green has been just as helpful.
Don’t look for the new coach to big-time anyone.
“When I got the (Plano) job, the first email I got was from (Aurora Christian coach) Don Beebe. And for me, that was really cool,” said Kunz.
“I’m a younger coach. Growing up, I used to be the Buffalo Bills on (Nintendo’s) Tecmo Bowl, playing the video game. I’d always throw the ball to Don Beebe. The minute I got that email I had to call my brother and say, ‘You’re not gonna believe this.’ He was pretty excited, too.”
Kunz was an assistant in his hometown for four years before coming to Plano, where he’s directed the program’s summer weight program for Green as well as coaching track and assisting with girls basketball.
“(Green) has been great to work for and I really value our friendship. Seeing how a head coach carries himself, we joke and say he’s the mayor because he is so personable and talks to everybody. I’ve learned a lot from him,” said Kunz, who hopes to teach and coach in Plano for a long time
“We’ve made the playoffs seven of the past eight years after a 25-year drought, so to have that responsibility of having something good moving forward, that’s what I wanted to take on. Especially with the great kids we have here, I’m excited about working with them.
And what will become of the Reapers’ run-oriented wing-T offense?
Time will tell.
“Over the last three years I’ve grown to love what we do,” said Kunz, who has coached the varsity line as well as serving as freshman offensive coordinator one year, then the same capacity for JV for two.
“I don’t necessarily want to change a lot of things, especially for the guys that have been here. We’ve come up together and they’ve been running this offense since they were in PYTF (Plano Youth Tackle Football), but I am looking to evolve it a little bit.”
He expects to have his staff finalized soon.
“Eventually, down the road, I’d like to be able to throw (the ball) a little more, although I do understand the philosophy of running it mostly. That’s what we did in high school,” he said, but nodded that, yes, it is possible to throw out of the wing-T.
“You have to have a good quarterback and the right people in the right place. It’s a matter of adapting to who you get. It’s not like we can go out and recruit anybody to fit our style. We have to fit our style to who we have.”