'Change in Philosophy:' Larry Niemeyer Out at Cedar Rapids Jefferson
By Jeff Linder, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS — If the career of the nation’s winningest softball coach is over, it ended neither in glory nor in defeat.
It ended on the phone.
Larry Niemeyer said Saturday night that he has been relieved of his coaching duties at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
“The principal (Chuck McDonnell) called Wednesday and said they would not offer me a contract for next year,” Niemeyer said. “His comment was that the school needed a change in philosophy in the softball program.
“What do they want to change to? Losing?”
Niemeyer, 74, has racked up a record of 2,089-429 in 52 softball seasons. He won four state championships – the 1970 fall title at Adel, then crowns at Jefferson in 1983, 1997 and 1998.
He took Jefferson to state 18 times, most recently in 2009.
“We have so much history. We built this thing from scratch and made it the winningest program at Jefferson,” Niemeyer said.
“I don’t deserve to be fired.”
McDonnell could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
The news took coaches and former players by utter surprise.
“Unbelievable,” said Iowa City West coach Jeff Kelley. “I’m stunned. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Larry. My feeling is that he has earned the right to step aside when he’s ready to step aside.”
Liz Erbe Wulff, an IGHSAU Hall of Famer who was on the 1997 and 1998 title teams (which had matching 55-2 records), said, “It’s the end of a major era. These things have to happen, but it didn’t have to happen today, or tomorrow, or next year.
“The hill (at the bottom of which is the Jefferson Softball Complex), that’s his hill. It’s Niemeyerville.”
And despite health issues that forced him away from the sideline for nearly half the season, Niemeyer wasn’t ready to step aside.
“I’m not through coaching,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound boastful, but I could take another program and make it better.”
Jefferson was 36-6 this season, winning the MVC Valley Division championship with a 25-1 record. The J-Hawks fell one game short of the state tournament, falling to Davenport West, 2-1.
A native of Burlington, Niemeyer taught at Adel before coming to Jefferson in 1978, coaching basketball and softball. He led the basketball team to 871 wins and the 1993 state championship.
Niemeyer retired as a teacher in 2011 and stepped down as basketball coach in March.
He coached each of his three daughters – Nancee, Noreen and Natalie. His son, Nick, has been his chief lieutenant the past eight years and was the interim coach when Larry was hospitalized.
“So many memories,” Niemeyer said. “So many great kids.”
A 2005 Jefferson grad and another Hall of Famer, Lauren Stolte called the news “unfortunate.”
“It’s a big loss to Jefferson,” she said. “He is a great coach. He didn’t just teach softball skills. He taught life skills.
“He made a big impact on my life. A coach isn’t supposed to hold your hand and be your friend. He’s supposed to push you to the limit, and that’s what Mr. Niemeyer did.”
Erbe Wulff said, “A lot of people think different ways about Mr. Niemeyer, but I jump to his defense. He had a way of putting us in position to figure out what you need to do to be better. I think that’s how he got the best out of his kids.
“We had our moments, don’t get me wrong. He told me once that if I didn’t get my head on straight, I wouldn’t amount to anything. I had to figure it out for myself. Now that I’m grown up, I’m thankful for people like that.”
Niemeyer will coach in the Iowa Girls Coaches Association All-Star games Monday at Waukee.
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