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A First-Team All-America offensive tackle on a Nebraska team that led the nation in rushing in 1963 died last Saturday in Rossville, Kansas. Larry Kramer, 71, not only was a great Division I player, but a respected coach who left meaningful legacies at Austin College in Texas, Emporia State College in Kansas and at the University of Nebraska, his alma mater. “Larry was a good coach, and we were good friends,” Nebraska Athletic Director Emeritus Tom Osborne said Monday. “We stayed in touch over the years, and I knew him very well. He was a good man.”
Osborne was not surprised that Kramer enjoyed a 36-year coaching career that began at McCook, Neb., Junior College and ended with a three-year stint as an assistant coach to Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Kramer retired from coaching in 1997 – the same year Osborne retired. Kramer served 28 of his 36 years as a head coach at McCook, Austin, Emporia, and Southern Oregon. His career record was 127 wins, 120 losses and five ties. All three 4-year schools required major rebuilding efforts. When you package multiple legacies with his first-team All-Big Eight Conference and first-team All-America honors at Nebraska, you would not expect Kramer ever needing a character reference. But Osborne happily volunteered to do just that for Kramer in 1962.
Most of the ‘Troublemakers’ Were ‘Decent Guys’
“When I was at the University of Nebraska in January 1962, Bob Devaney hired me as a volunteer graduate assistant,” Osborne recalled. “Bob couldn’t pay me a salary but he asked if I would move into Selleck Quadrangle and help solve some discipline problems with some of our players. So I did that and found that most of the players were decent guys and that included Larry Kramer.
“The dorm counselor at that time was afraid to even talk to the players,” Osborne said. “Larry threw a snowball once inside Selleck Quad, so he was in trouble and facing some discipline that really was kind of serious,” Osborne said with a slight chuckle. “They needed a character reference for Larry, and I knew him well enough to do that. I think by today’s standard that would be a pretty minimal issue, but back then it apparently wasn’t. Anyway, he became an All-American here and went on to be a very good coach. 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, Brown, Voss, Kirby Lined Up Together
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 Monday that Kramer disdained the hazing in NFL training camp and left shortly after he arrived in his native Minnesota.
“Norm Van Brocklin was the Vikings’ head coach at the time, and I was in my second year with the Vikings,” Kirby said. “Van Brocklin was able to talk Larry into coming back to camp, but after one day, he packed his bags and left again. I did a lot of film study with Coach Van Brocklin. He went after Larry; he wanted him, and he gave him a second chance. Even back then, that hardly ever happened. Larry Kramer was definitely good enough to play in the NFL, but he made a wise decision. 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 Could Run Just as Fast Backwards
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. “You know what’s really interesting about Churchich breaking Claridge’s passing record?” Kirby asked Monday. “Coach Devaney wanted to move toward more of a pass-oriented attack primarily because of players like Larry Kramer. Even though he played regularly when we older guys were there, he was probably one of the primary influences for Coach Devaney to revise the offensive style. Larry Kramer may be the only offensive lineman I’ve ever seen who could run and block just as fast backwards (pass protection) as he could running forward (rushing).”
There were reasons why Devaney wanted an improved passing game. “Teams became familiar with Bob’s unbalanced line running game,” Kirby told me. “Plus, all of our big players were gone: Monte Kiffin, Bob Jones, Ron Michka, Ron Griesse, Duncan Drum and Lloyd Voss. As I recall, that’s when Bob started to lean more on Tom (Osborne) because he was a receiver in the NFL and knew all the pro passing systems. Tom was always ahead of the game in all phases.”
Austin College, Emporia State Primary Stops
Monday, Osborne indicated his surprise that Kramer didn’t play in the NFL and had never heard why he left training camp. Bottom line, the NFL’s loss was small college football’s gain in both Texas and Kansas. Before Kramer arrived in the 1970s, Austin College “was pretty much a doormat,” former player Bill Magers told a Sherman, Texas, Herald-Democrat reporter. “We would run through a brick wall for him. He’s the coach every guy wanted to play for.” Kramer coached at Austin from 1973 to 1982 and led the school to the 1981 NAIA National Championship.
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.
Kramer Recruited Two Super Bowl Winners
“Coach Kramer put Emporia State on the football map,” current Emporia State Coach Garin Higgins said in a news release. “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.”
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.
For This Legend, Emporia Colors Requested
Visitation will be held on Saturday, February 1, at 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Emporia. A celebration will follow the 2 p.m. funeral. The family and those close to Coach Kramer encourage attendees with ties to Emporia State to wear school colors on jerseys, shirts and sweatshirts for the visitation, funeral and celebration service.
Some attendees may choose to wear red to meet the “dress casual” request while honoring a true Big Red icon that lettered on the first Nebraska team ever to win a bowl game (36-34 over Miami in 1962). Kramer also was a key cog in the offensive line for the 1963 team that beat Auburn in the Orange Bowl. A year later, he was Nebraska’s only consensus All-American on the ‘64 team that won its first nine games before losing at Oklahoma (17-7) and to Arkansas (10-7) in the Cotton Bowl.
Tenopir Says Kramer Was an Antique Buff
Kramer’s career exemplifies his character. Longtime NU 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 Monday. “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.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
A great article on Larry. I knew from visiting with Larry at coaches’ clinics that he coached at McCook and Emporia. I didn’t know how successful he was. He never mentioned it. He was a great guy, great player, a great coach, and a humble person. Jed Rood, Columbus, Nebraska
We want to tell you how much we appreciated the article you wrote about Larry Kramer. He and wife Sandy were dear friends. She thought it was so nice of you to write about him. Thanks for letting everyone know what a good and caring man he was. He will be missed but always remembered with love and respect. Thanks again from the bottom of our hearts. Ken and Audrey Peil, Ayr, Nebraska
My how things change. In 1965-66 John Melton was Nebraska's head freshman coach. Clete Fisher was his assistant and three of us were graduate assistants – Larry Kramer, Rudy Gaddin (who played for Coach Devaney at Michigan State) and me. Larry coached the offensive line and the next year went on to successfully coach the McCook Junior College team. Larry was a good coach and he still had the reputation of being an All-American lineman at Nebraska. He was very passionate about football, was quite demanding of his players and succeeded in the profession for almost four decades. Dick Beechner, Kearney, Nebraska
I really enjoyed your story on Larry Kramer. His wife, Sandy, and her brother were good friends when we were kids and they are a terrific family. Good work. The Husker heritage is always a source of interest and pride. Jim McClurg, Lincoln, Nebraska