Coach’s Chair: Doug Bruno, DePaul University

Doug Bruno turned DePaul into an elite power soon after he returned in 1988. Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics.
Doug Bruno turned DePaul into an elite power soon after he returned in 1988. Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics.

Doug Bruno is in the midst of his 34th season as DePaul’s head coach. He has guided the Blue Demons to 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances – a feat that only four other coaches can claim. His career wins total coming into the year was 734, and he is the fourth active Division I coach to reach the 600-win plateau.

Bruno played at DePaul for coach Ray Meyer. After graduation he coached boy’s varsity basketball, was an assistant athletic director and women’s basketball coach for the Blue Demons, and coached the Chicago Hustle of the Women’s Basketball League. He spent eight seasons as associate head coach at Loyola Chicago before returning to his alma mater to coach the women in 1988.

A former WBCA president, Bruno has helped coach numerous USA Basketball teams, has run basketball camps for decades, and currently serves as a consultant to the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. He was inducted into the DePaul Athletics Hall of Fame, the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, and the IBCA Hall of Fame. He serves on numerous basketball committees.

North side Chicago Bruno and his wife are the parents of six sons, and they have 10 grandchildren.

At what age did you start playing basketball? How would you describe yourself as a player?

My two best sports in eighth grade were hockey and baseball. I was cut from the basketball team as a sophomore, but unlike Michael Jordan, who was cut from varsity, I was cut from the sophomore team. That set me on my first goal in life, to make the varsity team as a junior. From that point forward, I started playing five hours a day. We didn’t lift weights back then, we just played. I played with that goal of making the varsity team the next year. We already had nine juniors, so if I was logical I would have just stuck with hockey or baseball – both of which I was good at. But I really wanted to play basketball.

I made the team and became a six-foot high school rebounder, so I was a small post player. Then I was able to coach for Ray Meyer’s basketball camp. I didn’t have enough money to go to the camp, so I worked it for eight weeks. If he hadn’t given me that opportunity, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had. By the time I was a senior I had two offers: Winona State and Illinois State. Finally, Ray Meyer came up to me one day and said he was tired of answering calls about me from schools. He said, “why don’t you just come play with DePaul?” So I did.

What do you love most about the game of basketball?

The competitiveness. It’s each individual human being competing to be the best they can be. You can see the growth inside individuals who work to become the best they can be. You see young people at one level take themselves to another level. The second tier of competitiveness is beating the guy on the other side of the ball. It’s about mastering individual competitiveness and then taking that to team competitiveness.

You began your career as a high school boy’s coach. How did you end up coaching in the Women’s Basketball League?

I started coaching high school boys when I was playing in college, and the Chicago Bulls practiced right after that, and sometimes we practiced against them. I was a post player in high school who had to go to a PG in college. I cut class more than any other player who played for coach Meyer, which is why my players all have to go to class.

I graduated with a major in English, with a stellar 2.1 GPA. I took my final exams and then I’m graduating and realizing that the NBA isn’t inviting me to camps, so I’ve got to do something with my life. i’m driving a truck, going to every newspaper in Chicago to see if I can get a job as a copy boy, when I get a call from St. Francis High School to be their boy’s basketball coach. Two days later I get a call from the Chicago Daily News to be a copy boy. I auditioned for my basketball coaching job two days later, and at the end of it I thought, “I have a team.”

I coached high school boys for two years, and then I was lucky enough to be hired as an assistant AD (for the Blue Demons) at age 25. I ran the hall of the facility we played in, and I was a facilities director, an equipment manager and a business manager. It was the best experience I could have had for those three years.

I was coaching my DePaul team and the owner of the Hustle was there to negotiate a contract, and was waiting for me, watching me coach. At the end, he offered me the Hustle job, which is why I teach my players that life is an interview.

I left the WBL and coached men’s basketball at Loyola for a few years. I came back to DePaul in 1988.

What made you want to coach on the women’s side, and what did it mean to you to be a head coach at DePaul?

They asked me to coach the women’s team when the previous coach left, and for the next two years I coached them while I was doing the AD job, and I coached for nothing. (Current DePaul athletic director) Jean Ponsetto was one of my first captains, and she was the best captain I’ve ever had. During that time I decided I’d rather be coaching rather than administrating, because it taught me so much more. Just like athletics doesn’t know race, it doesn’t know gender. Basketball doesn’t know the difference between white and African-American, and it doesn’t know gender. It just knows athletes and competitors.

You’ve been president of the WBCA, have coached for USA Basketball for many years, and you are a consultant to the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. How do you balance your life with the demands of work?

I believe every human that lives must find work-life balance. But I believe that it’s totally individual and unique to each human being. I don’t believe anyone can mandate or legislate work-life balance.

I try to live each day to the fullest, but there are a lot of different ways to have balance. We enjoy W’s. We don’t enjoy, but we share defeats. It’s the simple little things. Driving up Lake Shore Boulevard in the morning is work-life balance. Being on the elliptical for 20 minutes reading the Chicago Times is work-life balance.

Has the journey of your coaching career been anything like you imagined it would be?

My high school coach played for coach Meyer, and he was a great player himself. I had so many great role models around me. I only coach one game at a time. I only believe in winning one game in a row. if your team is not playing well, it doesn’t mater what you’ve done in the past or what you might do in the future. We just had a good win and this morning at practice we’re focused on what we could do better. Your mind is in the moment.

What do you appreciate most about your job?

The people. The people i work with every day, my AD, my assistant coaches, my players, my former players. We’ve got the best family because we’ve got the best facilities, and the people are the facilities.

One day when you do decide to retire, what will you do next?

I intend to coach until I die. But I do understand that there’s a higher order out here that’s above me. The day will come when i’m no longer able to coach. But I certainly never intend to retire.

What is one thing about you that most people wouldn’t know?

i enjoy all kinds of people – bus drivers, cab drivers, bartenders, sports writers. I guess that’s the thing that sparked Geno’s and my friendship is that we like to talk about things other than basketball.

Maggie Dixon was a classic example of someone who Just walked into my life and became a daughter, a sister and a friend. She was that special.