Roy Kramer’s career can best be summed up in segments of about 12 years, and each coincides with the growth of football at the high school and collegiate level all across the nation.
Kramer is one of 33 coaches whose name is on the ballot for possible induction into the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame. The names of the new inductees will be announced early next year.
The ballot which was announced, has 99 players in addition to the 33 coaches.
Some of the notable coaches on the ballot included Billy Jack Murphy, the winningest coach in Memphis history, Darryl Rogers, who coached at five schools during his career, including Michigan State (1976-79) and Arizona State (1980-84), as well as former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who led the Sooners to the 2000 national championship.
Several coaches from other NCAA and NAIA schools were also on the ballot, including Dick Biddle, the winning coach in Colgate and Patriot League history, Jim Feix (Western Kentucky), Ross Fortier (Minnesota-Moorhead) and Rudy Hubbard, who led Florida A&M to back-to-back 1-AA titles in 1977 and 1978. Maxie Lambright, who guided Louisiana Tech to three straight D-II national championships (1972-74). James Malosky (Minnesota-Duluth) was also considered. He was the winningest coach in NCAA D-II history at the time of his retirement following the 1997 sesason. His UMD won nine conference championships during his tenure (1958-97) and he produced 33 winning seasons in his 40 years at the school.
Former players whose names appeared on the ballot included Morten Andersen (Michigan State), Champ Bailey (Georgia), Eric Bieniemy (Colorado), Jack Del Rio (Southern Cal) and Tony Gonzalez (California). Also considered for induction in 2021 were Ray Lewis (Miami), Ed McCaffrey (Stanford), Julius Peppers (North Carolina), Ron Rivera (California) and Rashaan Salaam, who won the 1994 Heisman Trophy while starring for Colorado. Tony Romo, who played at Eastern Illinois, was also on the recent ballot.
“Having a ballot and a voice in the selection of the College Football Hall of Fame inductees is one of the most cherished NFF member benefits,” said NFF chairman Archie Manning, a 1989 Hall of Fame inductee following his brilliant career at Mississippi. “There is no group more knowledgeable or passionate about college football than our membership, and the tradition of the ballot helps us engage them in the lofty responsibility of selecting those who have reached the pinnacle of achievement in our sport.”
Few of the possible new inductees have had the impact Kramer had during his long association with football.
Kramer, a native of Michigan, began his coaching career at Battle Creek (Mich.) Central High School as an assistant in 1955. He later worked as an assistant at Hudson High School (1956) and Dowagiac High School (1957), both in Michigan. He went on to coach two seasons (1958-59) and Benton Harbor High School before becoming the head coach at East Lansing High School.
In seven seasons (1960-66) there he led the Trojans to a 58-14-3 (.793) record and was named the coach of the year in Michigan following the 1964 season.
“High school coaching was very enjoyable,” Kramer said. “But, as coaches we were victims of how the gene pool had been 16 or 17 years before and you never really knew what kind of talent you were going to have from year to year.”
Kramer then spent 11 seasons (1966-77) leading the football program at Central Michigan University and helping oversee the school’s movement from one of the top NCAA Division II programs to Division 1.
The school was a member of the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference when Kramer took over as coach.
“It was a challenging time,” he said of his tenure at the school complete with numerous changes and successes. “We won our share of games … and that’s always helpful along the way if you are a coach.”
Kramer’s 1974 Chippewas defeated Delaware 54-15 in the Camelia Bowl in Sacramento, Calif. to win CMU’s only D-II national championship. They began the season by losing to Kent State before 10 straight to close the regular season. The Chippewas downed Boise State 20-6 in the first round of the playoffs to reach the title game.
That 1974 CMU team was comprised with players who all hailed from the state of Michigan, according to Kramer.
“We used that as a recruiting pitch,” he said. “We told people that we were the true Michigan team.”
Kramer also helped oversee Central Michigan’s move to Division 1 and its membership in the Mid-America Conference. He left following the 1977 season with a career record of 83-32-2 (.718) to become the athletics director at Vanderbilt.
“I never really looked at becoming an administrator,” Kramer said. “Someone recommended me for the job and I was impressed with the community of Nashville and was impressed with Vanderbilt and its reputation as one of the leading universities in the nation.”
Vanderbilt, long a power in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (1895-1921), where the Commodores claimed 11 conference titles in football, and the Southern Conference (1922-32), had become a founding member of the Southeastern Conference in 1932 and struggled to find measured success in the newly formed league.
“It took some time but we became competitive again in football,” Kramer said, “plus we were successful in many of the other sports.
“It was that challenge to become successful that made it possible to succeed because people wanted to be a part of rebuilding our traditions at the school.”
Kramer’s stay in Nashville lasted, you guessed it, 12 years. In 1990 he became the sixth commissioner in SEC history. It was a time that signaled significant changes in the landscape of collegiate athletics in the conference and across the nation.
“Expansion was being talked about and was beginning to take shape,” Kramer said of his arrival at the conference office in Birmingham. “The (SEC) presidents made it clear that they did not want to recruit schools, so we made it known that we were simply looking to expand and left it up to the schools to reach out to us.”
“What we were looking for were broad-based schools that had a proven track record in academics and athletics.” Kramer added.
Arkansas and South Carolina eventually joined the conference in 1991 which increased league membership to 12 schools. Missouri and Texas A&M withdrew from the Big 12 Conference in 2012 which brought the SEC up to its current 14 member schools.
The addition of the Razorbacks and Gamecocks also allowed the SEC to implement a divisional format and set the stage for several other conferences to follow suit.
“Legislation was already in place by the NCAA to allow for divisional play,” Kramer explained. “We made sure that we maintained rivalries that were important to the conference like Georgia and Auburn, Auburn and Alabama, and some others.”
The new plan was not without some concerns, according to Kramer.
“We new there would be some controversy,” he said. “We were not sure how the fans would accept the new format, but in the end, I think it has made the season competitive much longer. Instead of a team having things wrapped up early on, we now have something special in the conference championship game that the fans have supported quite well.”
The conference tournaments in other league sports have also seen increased attendance over the years with several SEC teams vying for national championships on a yearly basis. During Kramer’s time leading the conference, SEC teams combined the win 81 national championships in various sports.
He also oversaw the distribution of a then-league record $95.7 million to its member schools in his final season before retiring in 2002 and negotiated multi-sport national television deals with CBS and ESPN.
The SEC athlete of the year award for men and women is presented each year as the Roy F. Kramer Award.
“Coaching is a unique profession,” said Kramer, who is now spending plenty of time fishing in retirement. “Most people don’t understand the relationships that are built and all the work that goes on behind the scenes in making sure all of our programs are successful.”
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.