Kramme, Lepper have used different approaches to find success

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 6, 2013 

Lynden coach Curt Kramme and Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper will each be feverishly working the Tacoma Dome sideline during their respective state title games Saturday, Dec. 7.

The way they'll go about coaching will be far different.

Fans perched near the Dome's rafters might be able to catch a bellowing Lepper sound bite. The only way to know what Kramme is thinking would be to get inside his mind.

Lynden's masterful coach is reminiscent of a mad scientist, quietly and surgically going about his work, trying to craft the best game plan to exploit an opposing team's weakness. Kramme's creation then works flawlessly on game day.

Lepper, on the other hand, fits a military-superior role. He wears his emotions on his face and in his body language, barking out direction before building back up the players he cares so much about.

Kramme and Lepper may have contrasting coaching styles, but this year they've arrived at the same success. It's animated vs. calm, boisterous vs. reserved, fire vs. ice.

"Coach Kramme, I like to use the word, is very surgical," said Lynden defensive coordinator and longtime assistant Blake VanDalen in a phone interview. "He is very methodical. I have never heard him swear. He hardly ever raises his voice. He is very calm and the more intense the situation is, the more calm he gets. The more frustrated he gets, the more analytical he gets."

Lepper is the antithesis.

"He knows what his strengths are, his toughness, his ability to chew a kid out and at the same time make him feel confident," said Mount Baker defensive coordinator and former player Tom Horsmon. "He is an old-school tough-love-type of guy, but the kids know he really deeply cares."

Lepper's trademark yell is one of his most noticeable characteristics. It's loud enough to be heard in a room filled with people talking and piercing enough to make the person who's being called for stand at attention.

Lepper's always had it. Horsmon, who played football and baseball for the head coach his senior year at Baker back in 1994, which was Lepper's first year coaching football, vividly recalls being chewed out.

"To be honest, he was a bit abrasive as a coach," Horsmon said, "and it didn't fit my style."

But when Horsmon joined Lepper's coaching staff in 1998, he, like most people who get to know Lepper, began seeing he's much more than a coach who can motivate by intimidation.

Horsmon has witnessed a drastic change in Lepper, especially in the past four-to-six years, he said.

"Over the last 16 years we've coached together, I think in the last four or five or six years, he's really mellowed out quite a bit," Horsmon said."

Lepper, who also coaches wrestling and softball, has an array of coaching strengths, but one is reading kids and understanding what type of motivation works best. Some embrace Lepper's fiery attitude, Horsmon said. Others don't. Lepper's ability to analyze each individual player helps players reach their potential.

Going back to last year, Horsmon said a player like Jake Schleimer loved Lepper's passion, but Tyrel Cronk didn't.

"He won't be negative, but he will yell at you," Mount Baker senior and two-way starter Cody Larson said. "He is fun. He likes to joke around a lot, and he likes to joke while yelling. He chews you, and sometimes you have to take it, but he's fun to be around."

As Lepper's personality has changed during his 20 years leading the Mountaineers' football program, his team's mentality has adjusted with it.

Horsmon described Lepper's late 90s teams and early 2000 teams as a hard-nosed group that beat teams with pure passion and enthusiasm. He's seen a different team during Lepper's most recent string of success.

"His teams the last few years, they've continued to have the toughness, but now he's becoming a much better play-caller, in my opinion," Horsmon said. "I think that's the key transition. He has that awareness to adjust and not be stubborn. If the dive isn't working or the sweep isn't working, we'll try something else. It used to be, 'No, we are going to run it until we get it right.'"

While Lepper certainly does his due diligence in the film room to help Baker prepare for it's opponents, a team the Mountaineers look to emulate, Horsmon said, is Lynden.

And Kramme's work ethic is second to none.

Kramme, who VanDalen billed a "genius," has become known for his fantastic game plans and in-depth preparedness. It's a big reason the Lions have won state titles five of the past seven seasons.

Kramme's unrivaled dedication is a result of a choice he's made to best attack his passion for coaching, VanDalen explained.

"He will tell you everyone chooses in life what they think is going to be their legacy, and he says once you've narrowed that down, you look at how he coaches, and he leaves no stone unturned," VanDalen said. "He doesn't do the bare minimum, he does the extreme maximum."

That shows in Lynden's ability to have full scouting reports ready on both the teams they might play the week after a game, even though it means trashing one of the reports, and it shows in Lynden's mentality of being so prepared, games are intended for players to play rather than think.

But while the dedication Kramme expends in order to construct the perfect game plan may lead some to believe he is stubborn and set in his ways, that couldn't be further from the truth.

VanDalen raved about Kramme's humility and humbleness. He's not afraid of change, and VanDalen said one of his favorite halftime questions is asking players what plays they would suggest.

Kramme has changed Lynden's defense three times during VanDalen's 17 years of coaching, and the well-choreographed spread offense the Lions now run was something much different before 2005.

"He got his football roots in Burlington-Edison," VanDalen explained. "He brought the old Power-I and an old-school style of football."

It wasn't until 2004 when Kramme traveled to Southlake Carroll High School in Texas to learn the spread offense that the Lions became a more pass-oriented team.

Though Kramme and Lepper are different in their approach, their common thread this year has been the ability to transform a large group of new varsity players into a state-title worthy group.

And the affect Lepper and Kramme have made on their respective programs spills out to the communities they cherish.

"It's pretty great watching him," said Horsmon of Lepper. "He is definitely about the kids. He would do anything for them. He is about the program. He is about Mount Baker. He is about the community, and I really think he has taken the community on as a group of people he really cares about."

Said VanDalen of Kramme: "The No. 1 thing I respect is his humility. He is a humble man, and when kids graduate they say, 'Wow, I'm so glad I was able to play for coach Kramme.'"

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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