by Ryan Krzykowski

Writing well matters to me.  I know I’m not the greatest writer in the world, but I do want to write reasonably well.  Spelling words correctly, phrasing ideas in ways that draw in a reader, avoiding hacky cliches — all of these matter.  So it bugs me when spell check flags a word that I have carefully chosen, especially when I know I’m using it properly.

One word my computer can’t seem to get used to (maybe it isn’t technically a word, I don’t really care) is “transformational”.

I began using this word in my work with CFC in 2012 after learning it from one of my coaching heroes, Joe Ehrmann.  Joe describes coaches who intentionally use sports as a tool of life change as Transformational Coaches, and I love the term and use it routinely.  And I don’t care if spell check doesn’t like it.

Last week witnessed the end of a transformational era as Naples (FL) High School head football coach Bill Kramer stepped down after 22 years at the helm of the Golden Eagle program.  The sports world has no shortage of unlikely programs becoming championship contenders, but the story of Naples High and Bill Kramer is about as unlikely as any.  It also hits close to home, as I had the privilege of beginning my coaching career and adult life under Coach Kramer’s tutelage, serving on his staff from 1998-2004.  I enjoyed the equally great privilege of remaining close with Bill over the past 15 years.  Coach Kramer’s impact on my life is certainly nothing short of transformational.

At our first meeting, my interview for a position on that 1998 staff, as I unsuccessfully tried to impress Bill with my football acumen, I heard a man say two things that I could never forget.  The first was that after turning down the job multiple times, Bill had become convinced that he needed to come to Naples and assemble a staff of men committed to “doing what God wants them to do, ready to use the sport as a tool to impact the lives of our players and their families for eternity.”  That sounded fine to me; I was unsure what that would look like, but I was on board.

Then came the shocker.  Coach Kramer looked me in the eye and told me that we would win state championships at Naples High.  I about fell out of my chair.  There was no way.  Going .500, or if you really wanted to talk crazy, making the playoffs, would have been plenty ambitious for that program.  Twenty-two seasons, 216 wins, 17 district championships, three trips to the state finals and two state championships later, Bill was right.  And this is what he knew back in 1998 that I would only begin to really understand years later: when we get the first part right, when we commit to using the sport as a tool to impact lives and point young people toward something greater than themselves, there is virtually no limit to what can be accomplished.  Over time, a culture built upon these ideals will become one of championship caliber.  Players who are loved well by their coaches will love each other well, be motivated like you wouldn’t believe, and eventually put themselves in the best possible position to win.

In my years on that staff we didn’t do it perfectly, but the vision never changed.  There are no shortcuts — the work has to be done.  There are no guarantees — the ball may or may not bounce your way on your journey to the state title.  But I will always be in awe of the courage it took for Coach Kramer to put it out there: we are going to win championships at Naples High.

Personally, I can’t tell imagine my life today without the experience of growing up under Coach Kramer’s mentorship.  Pretty much every day I do something or make a decision that can be traced back directly to my years at Naples High.  And that’s just in my daily life.  When I coach a team nowadays, or when I’m consulting with coaches in my CFC role, Bill’s influence is absolutely unmistakable.  I’m nowhere near a finished product, but you should have seen me when I was 22-25.  I can’t believe some of the immature things I said and did back in those days, situations Coach Kramer dealt with patiently as he allowed me to figure things out.  He took me in as a smart-mouthed punk, loved on me and grew me up, and then turned me loose on the world.  Other than my parents, no person on the planet has done more to shape who I am.  There is zero doubt about that.  Even more, I know for a fact there are hundreds of others out there who would say something similar.  That’s the epitome of transformational coaching, and I thank God for Coach Kramer’s influence in all of our lives.

So when I heard the news last week, that after 22 seasons Coach Kramer was stepping down as head coach, I was flooded with emotions.  It is a little sad to think that Bill’s time in that role has come to an end, and yet I was really happy for him that he has such peace about the decision.  Most of all, I feel immense gratitude for all those years of God using Bill Kramer in so many lives.  Coach Kramer has plenty of good years ahead of him, and will certainly continue to impact the lives of the people around him.  But there was no way I could let this moment pass without crafting something of a tribute, a nod to a man who is all about doing what God wants him to do, and helping others learn to do the same.

Let’s be transformational.  Let’s Coach With Purpose.