Players, coaches remember legendary AHS grad, Cornhusker Hall of Famer Larry Kramer
Published 10:21 am Tuesday, February 4, 2014
If legendary Nebraska Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne takes time to praise someone’s coaching credentials, it’s probably for good reason. But it was Larry Kramer’s kindness that really stuck out to Osborne and many of Kramer’s closest friends.
Kramer, who died Jan. 25 in Rossville, Kansas, at the age of 71, left a huge mark on the football field, but he left an even bigger mark on his friends.
Kramer graduated from Austin High School in 1960, and was a three-year starter at offensive tackle at the University of Nebraska, where he was a consensus All-American in 1964 and inducted into the the Nebraska Hall of Fame. He went on to coach for 32 years and led Austin College in Sherman, Texas, to a NAIA national title. But his personality wasn’t exactly what you might expect from a big, physical guy.
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“He was a tremendous, kind guy,” said Larry Maus, an Austin resident and friend of Kramer’s. “He was not a mean person at all. It shows that you don’t have to be a meanie to be a great football player.”
Osborne, now the Nebraska Athletic Director Emeritus, called Larry a good coach and a good friend.
“We stayed in touch over the years, and I knew him very well. He was a good man,” Osborne said in a news release last week. “Larry was a very talented player and a very talented coach. I have a lot of respect for everything he was able to accomplish.”
Kramer was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame for his distinguished career both as a run-blocker and a pass-blocker. He helped NU quarterback Bob Churchich break Dennis Claridge’s single-season passing record, and made the same UPI and Coaches All-America teams as Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.
At Nebraska, Kramer was considered a tough, rugged competitor. As a junior in 1963, he was one-fourth of Nebraska’s “Fearsome Foursome” offensive line that also included Bob Brown, Lloyd Voss and John Kirby. Brown played 10 years in the NFL, Voss nine and Kirby seven. The Baltimore Colts made Kramer a future choice in the ninth round of the 1963 NFL Draft. He chose to wait, however, until he completed his senior year and signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. Kirby said last week in a press release that Kramer disdained the hazing in NFL training camp and left shortly after he arrived in his native Minnesota.
“It was unfortunate for Larry, because Minnesota’s head coach, Norm Van Brocklin, was a guy who liked to get physical and mean, and Larry wasn’t like that,” Maus said.
To Kirby, Kramer made the right choice.
“Larry Kramer was definitely good enough to play in the NFL, but he made a wise decision,” Kirby said in the release. “He became a fantastic coach, and looking back, I’m not so sure he didn’t have his heart already set on coaching when he came to training camp. He was sort of destined to be a coach.”
Kramer went on to coach for 32 years and posted an all-time record of 127 wins, 120 losses and five ties. He coached at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, from 1973 to 1982, and led the school to a 1981 NAIA national championship. He then coached Emporia State, where he ranks second in total wins and winning percentage, from 1983 to 1994, posting a record of 71-55-0.
Emporia State experienced nine straight losing seasons before Kramer arrived in 1983. Two years later, he led Emporia to seven straight winning seasons and eight straight years with at least a .500 record — still the longest winning streak in Emporia State’s 116-year football history. Despite playing eight of 13 games on the road in 1989, Kramer coached Emporia State to the NAIA National Championship game before losing to Carson-Newman College in Jefferson, Tennessee.
“To me, coach Kramer put Emporia State on the football map,” current Emporia State head coach Garin Higgins said in a news release from the University of Nebraska. “Everyone who played for coach Kramer has a special bond. Whatever job we may have, he gave us something that we could use in our lives.”
Kramer ended his coaching career in 1997 as an assistant at Kansas State under legendary coach Bill Snyder. Snyder actually served as an assistant to Kramer at Austin College from 1974 to 1975.
At Austin, Kramer recruited Larry Fedora, the head football coach at the University of North Carolina. At Emporia State, he recruited 14 All-America players, including two — Leon Lett (Dallas Cowboys) and Kelly Goodburn (Washington Redskins) — who went on to win Super Bowl Championships in the NFL.
Maus recalled how dedicated Kramer was to his programs.
“I remember one time when Larry camped out at the school’s bell tower and said he would stay there until they filled their stadium for a game,” Maus said. “It made national news.”
For as much success as Kramer had on the football field, he didn’t even start for the Austin Packers his junior year.
“That shows you how good Austin’s teams were back then,” Maus said.
His senior year at AHS he weighed 190 pounds, but after going to play college football at Nebraska, Kramer came back weighing around 250 pounds.
“Larry had the frame and Nebraska beefed him up,” Maus said.
Kramer also played baseball for the Packers under head coach Dick Seltz. He was a catcher and a solid hitter in the lineup.
Looking back, longtime Nebraska offensive line coach Milt Tenopir agrees with Osborne that Kramer was as good a man as he was a coach.
“Larry would come up to our football office a lot,” Tenopir said last week in the press release. “He was a very sharp guy. There isn’t any question about that. We’d talk some football, but mostly just talk about life. He was an antique buff and traveled all around the country looking for antiques. I can see why so many people honored him. He had great character and a great career.”
Kramer is survived by his wife of 50 years, Sandra Kramer, a son and three daughters.
His memorial was held in Emporia, Kansas, on Feb. 1. Memorial contributions may be made to the Austin High School Packer Athletic Improvement Project and sent in care of Roberts Blue Barnett Funeral Home. Online condolences may be made through www.robertsblue.com.