'Community’ lures new Southridge coach

Photo courtesy North Vernon Plain-Dealer Sun

Herald Sports Writer

Scott Buening firmly believes in the adage “everything happens for a reason.”

It’s how he explains taking his first coaching position at Evansville Harrison in 2001. He had never been to the Pocket City, and yet it’s where he eventually met his wife, Stephanie, a South Spencer High School graduate.

It’s how he explains serving as head coach for the first time at a school whose football program needed to be gutted and rebuilt from the start, and why he turned down an offer to take over at a glitzy Class 4A powerhouse.

And it’s why the 36-year-old decided to come to Huntingburg. Now, he’ll aim to discover what that reason is.

The Southwest Dubois School Board accepted Buening as Southridge’s new head football coach during its meeting Monday night. He also will be the high school’s dean of students.

Buening, a 1995 North Decatur High School graduate, replaces eight-year coach Kelly Murphy, who resigned from the position in mid-January to devote more time to his job as the school’s vice principal.

Murphy coached eight seasons at Southridge, finishing with a 66-31 record that included three sectional championships, two regional titles and a trip to the state finals in 2006 in his second season.

Meanwhile, Buening compiled a 12-28 record in his four seasons as the head coach at Jennings County. Last year, the Panthers finished with a 1-9 record. The Class 5A school went 4-37 in the four seasons prior to Buening’s arrival. In March, the Jennings County School Corp. unanimously voted to extend Buening’s coaching contract an additional two years, extending through the 2016-17 school year.

For Buening, the decision to join the Raider staff involved reasoning far beyond the gridiron. Sure, he doesn’t “think there’s a better football hotbed” than the Pocket Athletic Conference, but what truly enticed the former Dayton University and Hanover College football player to choose Southridge was the opportunity it offered his wife and two children, Allyson and Jake, who will enter third grade and kindergarten, respectively, next school year.

“Yes, I’m happy to become Southridge’s football coach and I can’t wait to work at the school, but really, it’s becoming a part of the community, I think, that matters the most,” said Buening.

When the school began its search for Murphy’s replacement, it was looking for a coach who not only had experienced success on the field but also an individual who possessed “good character, integrity and morals,” Southridge athletic director Brett Bardwell said.

“And this guy, to me, really fits that bill,” Bardwell said.

Bardwell said the school received about 15 applications for the position, and he and the committee responsible for finding a coach interviewed four of those candidates.

“What impressed us when we were doing the interviewing, was just like when we hired Coach Murphy eight years ago, we wanted to get a good person,” Bardwell said. “We wanted to get a quality person that’s going to come in here and not only run a good football program, but is going to be a role model to the kids, contribute to the school in other ways, be a positive contributor to Southridge, not only just in football but in supporting other activities.

“He’s done it and proved that he can be successful.”

Buening played defensive end at Dayton for a season and redshirted before transferring to Hanover, where he played for three more years.

Entering the coaching field, Buening became a varsity assistant at Evansville Harrison in 2001 before spending seven years at East Central High School in southeastern Indiana, where he was offensive coordinator for six of those years. He then moved on to Jennings County in 2009.

Bardwell said he was impressed not only by the success Buening had as offensive coordinator at East Central, but also by the effort he gave in resurrecting the program at Jennings County.

Progress can’t always be measured by a winning percentage, the athletic director said.

“He was clearly building a program at a place that’s very, very difficult to build a football program at,” Bardwell said. “He had gone into a downtrodden place and instilled an attitude where they started to win and build a program.”

Buening, who promotes a physical, run-first brand of football, was intrigued by the differing prospect Southridge offers compared with his job at Jennings County.

Whereas the Panther position impelled him to “really deconstruct and reconstruct the entire program,” he sees his role with the Raiders is more about preservation and gradual improvement.

“It wasn’t just a building thing. We had to tear the whole thing down and work to try and build it back up,” Buening said of the football program he inherited at Jennings County. “Here, that’s obviously not the case. And I’m not going to come in here and make a thousand changes. We’re going to come in here, and if it’s something that can help us win the conference, help us win the sectional, well then we’re going to do it. And if it’s not something that’s going to help us win the conference or win the sectional, we’re not going to do it. Reinventing the wheel is not the situation here. We’re just going to try and take what people have done here in the past and what Coach Murphy’s done and we’re going to try and make it a little better. And it’ll be in small steps because the program’s in awfully good shape the way it is.”

Buening said he also received a head coaching offer from “a fairly prominent (Class 4A) school that (he) was at.” East Central, which has won a state title, two semistate titles, five regional crowns and 15 sectional championships and where Buening worked for seven years, recently hired a new head coach for the upcoming season.

Just as Bardwell alluded to, Buening was drawn to the Southridge position largely because of the community aspect. He said he appreciates the support the program received not just for its on-field success, but in molding the kids and contributing more to the community at-large.

“I think it’s a huge responsibility, as far as coaches, that sometimes we don’t do a great job of as a coaching community. We have a responsibility to these players and their parents and this community, and I firmly believe that this is one of the big draws to this place, that this isn’t a place that wants you to come in and just win,” Buening said. “They want you to come in, they want you to do right by their kids, they want you to appreciate their community and their values and they want you to win. It’s really an all-encompassing thing.

“Like I said, it all happens for a reason. And for whatever reason we made the decision we did, we are extremely excited to be in this position.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com