Ramler named new St. Scholastica football coach

Kurt Ramler was going through a difficult time in the early part of last decade. Ramler was an up-and- coming football coach, handling the wide receivers at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., but his father was suffering from amyotrophic late...

Saints name Ramler coach
Kurt Ramler (left) is introduced as the new football coach at St. Scholastica as athletic director Don Olson looks on. (Steve Kuchera /

Kurt Ramler was going through a difficult time in the early part of last decade.
Ramler was an up-and-
coming football coach, handling the wide receivers at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., but his father was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis back home in Minnesota.
Ramler had to return home to be with his father, but he
didn’t want to derail his coaching career, so he reached out to his old college coach, St. John’s legendary John Gagliardi, who got Ramler a coaching job at his alma mater.
Now 12 years later, Ramler hopes to pass on the same types of lessons he learned from Gagliardi to a new generation of ballplayers as head football coach at St. Scholastica.
Ramler, 39, was announced as the second head coach in program history at a news conference Monday at Burns Wellness Commons on the St. Scholastica campus.
Ramler, a former quarterback who was a finalist for NCAA Division III player of the year in 1996, was asked how much he learned from Gagliardi, the all-time winningest coach in college football history.
“Oh, boy. How much time do we have?” Ramler said, laughing. “It’s an incredibly long list, football specific, person specific, but I think the thing I take away most from John and try to apply is how much he cared about the kids. I know John made a real difference in my life, not only when I was playing but afterward when he reached out to me in a time I needed him to help me out and he did. We knew he cared.”
Ramler’s previous head coaching experience was at Carleton College from 2006 to 2011, helping a program that had historically struggled compete for a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2008.
Ramler, a native of Chaska, Minn., returned to his alma mater a second time, serving as St. John’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator from 2012-14. He was one of three finalists to replace Gagliardi, who retired after the 2012 season.
“You have to be able to think outside of the box,” Ramler said. “John did things in an incredibly unconventional way. Most folks would say you can’t do that: no whistles, no conditioning, no blocking sleds, no contact in practice. Most football coaches, certainly at the time, would say you can’t do that, that it won’t work. Well, he’s only the winningest coach in the history of college football. Certainly, I’ve tried to apply some of those things specific to the strategy of the game, to be able to think in a way others don’t.”
Ramler replaces Greg Carlson, the only head coach the program has ever known, who retired in January after quickly building the new program into a consistent winner.
Carlson went 39-22 in six seasons, winning a share of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference championship the past three seasons while advancing to the NCAA Division III playoffs in each of those years.
The Saints conducted a national search to replace Carlson, attracting more than 105 applicants from across the U.S. as well as some foreign interest. They phone interviewed 11 candidates and had on-campus interviews with four: Ramler, Elmhurst’s Mike Heffernan, St. Olaf’s Rob McCarthy and Fond du Lac’s Keith Turner.
St. Scholastica athletic director Don Olson said he was “elated” with the hire. He had heard from a number of people, who, when finding out Ramler applied, told him the Saints better not lose him.
“Honestly, I would have been quite comfortable with any of those four candidates, but the more we learned about Kurt, the more he emerged as the front runner,” Olson said. “We brought him in for an interview, but he was interviewing us, too, because he wanted to make sure it was the right fit. He’s real genuine. The program is in great shape, so we were looking for someone to keep it going, to fine tune it, to make it even better.”
Ramler agreed.
“Without question, the toughest part was leaving people I really care about, at an institution I really care about, but the more I grew to know about St. Scholastica, the more excited I got,” said Ramler, an avid outdoorsman who knows the Duluth area well, making annual trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
With Ramler’s extensive background in the MIAC, Olson was asked if that signaled another push to switch leagues. St. Scholastica had twice applied to join the MIAC, only to be turned down. Olson said until the MIAC lifts its moratorium on expansion, if ever, it’s a moot point.
“It’s impractical,” Olson said. “They’re perfectly happy where they’re at, and we’re happy where we’re at.”
If Olson had a regret, it was that he wished he could have made the hire sooner with St. Scholastica in the middle of recruiting. It’s been a whirlwind month for Olson, who was in Maine two weeks ago as part of the NCAA Division III men’s hockey championship.
In the meantime, the Saints kept recruiting full speed ahead, promising recruits whoever they brought in would be a quality coach.
“We kept it going 100 miles an hour,” said St. Scholastica assistant coach Matt Bremer.
The Saints open the season Sept. 6 at home against Ripon College (Wis.).
Ramler plans on retaining most of St. Scholastica’s coaching staff from last fall and didn’t foresee any major changes on the football field from what Saints fans are accustomed to. While Gagliardi is known as an old-school kind of guy, St. John’s was known for a pretty exciting brand of football under the legendary coach.
“John always said, ‘When in doubt, air it out,’” Ramler said. “As a quarterback, I loved hearing that.’”
Ramler also loved hearing how the Johnnies had a place for him back home when he needed it the most.
Ramler got a little emotional during Monday’s press conference describing how Gagliardi helped him out. Now, more than 10 years later, that has made all the difference.
“John offered me a chance to keep my career going, and he didn’t have to do that,” Ramler said. “That meant the world to me.”

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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