“Big Daddy” just got a little bigger.
St. Stephens High School named Chris Bunting, the defensive coordinator for the Indians football team last season, as its newest head coach Thursday.
Bunting replaces Fred Whalen, who stepped down after two seasons in the post.
“We have a great community here,” Bunting said at a Thursday press conference at the school. “We have a great support system with our principal and athletic director. We have an amazing faculty and our kids are fantastic. We have things in place that are very good for us.”
Bunting thanked his predecessor, Whalen, for giving him an opportunity at St. Stephens.
“Working for him has been fantastic,” Bunting said. “He’s an organized guy. He lets his assistant be creative and gives them the freedom to do what they need to do with their guys. I’ve been blessed to be around him. There were several things I picked up from him. My experience here with Fred has been invaluable. It’s been fantastic. That’s a testament to him.”
Bunting joined the Indians’ staff in 2009. He served last year as defensive coordinator.
Bunting said he has fond memories of the day he first interviewed at the school.
“I remember getting that call that August morning,” he said. “Fred said ‘Can you be here later for an interview?’ I told him ‘You tell me when and I’ll be there.’ I was in this office interviewing that day.”
Bunting’s coaching experience includes many stints as a defensive coordinator at his alma mater, West Montgomery, as well as North Stanly and Patton.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with some very good head coaches during the last few years,” Bunting said.
Working under 300-win coach B.W. Holt at West Montgomery, Bunting said he learned many things from the legendary coach that he will implement with the Indians.
“One of the first things he taught me was to work hard and stay humble,” Bunting said. “I think that’s true in every walk of life in everything you come across. I think we as a staff and we as a program can come in and work hard, stay humble and do the things the right way and attack the stuff hard and passionately.”
His coaching experience is not limited to football. He’s been the head track coach at each of the schools where he has coached football.
During his playing days, Bunting captained three sports at West Montgomery, including football and wrestling. Following graduation in 1999, he played inside linebacker at Catawba College on an academic scholarship before shoulder injuries ended his playing days.
Behind the effort of his players, Bunting plans to hit the ground running.
“The first thing you have to do is roll up your sleeves and go to work,” he said. “It doesn’t come easy. You have to be able to work hard. Our kids are willing to do that. Our kids crave discipline, structure and organization. They want those kinds of things.”
Coming off a playoff appearance last season, Bunting said the experience, combined with the familiarity of knowing their new coach, will help his program.
“It gave our young kids some experience,” Bunting said. “They aren’t going to be in shock anymore and not know what to expect. We understand what it takes to get there.”
With exams going on, Bunting said he hasn’t been able to meet with his players yet, but plans to next Wednesday when students return to class.
He also said there are no plans to make changes to the staff, but he might switch responsibilities among some of his assistants. There is also no determination on whether or not he will keep his defensive coordinator duties next season.
Bunting will be the fifth head football coach at the school since 2000 and the third new football coach in Catawba County. Hickory and Maiden will also field new coaches next season, but those schools have not yet made hires.
Whalen steps down
Fred Whalen stepped down Thursday as head football coach at St. Stephens High School, citing his pursuit of a master’s degree in administration.
“I’ve been thinking the last 2-3 years about going into administration, Whalen said. “So, I decided at some point I needed to do it. I’ve been coaching 15 years. It just seemed like the time to do it.”
In conjunction with his resignation, Whalen was accepted into a graduate program this week, ending speculation late last month that the coach wouldn’t return.
“It’s only going to take me about a year to go through graduate school because I’ve actually got a master’s,” he said. “So it’s an add-on master’s. It’s not too bad, but I obviously couldn’t coach and do graduate school at the same time.”
St. Stephens Principal DeAnna Taylor said the decision was all Whalen’s.
“I was surprised when he came and hated to see him go,” Taylor said. “He stepped up when we needed him the most. Two years ago in June, Doug (Justice) leaves and we don’t have a coach. We were staring camp right in the face. Fred stepped up. By all means, he is here and going to stay here for as long as he chooses.”
Whalen told Taylor of his plans in late December, and she asked him to think about it for a week weeks.
“I wanted to make sure his decision wasn’t based on emotion, but rather what he wanted to do and where he saw himself going,” Taylor said.
After finding out he’d been accepted into a graduate program this week, Whalen officially tendered his resignation. He will remain a teacher at the school while pursuing his administration degree.
“I love being here,” Whalen said. “St. Stephens is a great place to be. Our principal and athletic director are great to work for. The kids are hard-working.”