116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
FORT DODGE — Perfection is an impossible standard, one Larry Niemeyer pursued doggedly for 52 years as a coach.
“That’s what he tried to achieve,” Brian Erbe said. “Perfection.”
Perennial excellence wasn’t a bad consolation.
Year after year, season after season, Niemeyer’s teams won, and won a lot.
Consider the math. Coach high school softball for 50 years, win 40 games a year. That’s 2,000 victories.
Niemeyer won 2,089. Nobody in the nation has won more. It’s unlikely that anybody ever will.
“Maybe I wasn’t good at a lot of things,” Niemeyer said in 2017. “But coaching ... I understood it.
“Coaching was easy for me.”
Sometimes gruff and always demanding, Niemeyer created a winning culture for softball and girls’ basketball, first at Adel High School, then at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
He died Thursday night at age 84 after a lengthy illness.
“His legacy was that he took young girls and developed skills in them,” said Jean Berger, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
“He was unapologetic about wanting to win.”
Niemeyer is survived by his wife, Gwen; three daughters, Nancee, Noreen and Natalie — all of whom played for him at Jefferson — a son, Nick, and five grandchildren.
UPDATE: Visitation is 1-5 p.m. Sunday, July 31, at the Jefferson High School gymnasium.
Funeral service is 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 1, at Murdock Funeral Home, Cedar Rapids.
A native of Burlington, Niemeyer began his teaching and coaching career at Adel in the early 1960s.
Seeking a new challenge, he brought his family in 1978 to Cedar Rapids, where Jefferson was getting its girls’ sports programs off the ground.
Massive success wasn’t far behind.
Jefferson won its first state softball championship in 1983, then won consecutive Class 3A state titles in 1997 and 1998.
Erbe was an assistant for Niemeyer in the late-’90s glory days.
“He had no time schedule for practice,” Erbe said. “If the kids got it down and looked good, we’d be out of there in an hour. If they needed to, we’d go three hours.
“We’d stay until we got it right.”
Now an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, Erin (Doud) Johnson was a 1997 Jefferson grad.
“My older sister played for (Niemeyer) in the 1980s, so I grew up around it,” Johnson said. “I was very excited knowing I would get to play for him.
“He got everything he could out of every single player. He knew how to push me, what buttons to push. If he was on you, he cared about you.”
Niemeyer’s final ledger was 2,089-429 in softball, 871-352 in girls’ basketball (No. 3 all-time in Iowa, with a state championship in 1993).
“In my opinion, he is the greatest high school coach there has ever been,” Waterloo West girls’ basketball coach Tony Pappas said. “To coach for 52 years, two sports and excel at that high of a level, it’s unbelievable.
“He paid attention to detail. He was meticulously organized. The way his teams executed, they were like a machine.”
It didn’t happen by accident.
“If the kids did something wrong, I would devise a drill to work on it and improve it,” Niemeyer said.
And they would drill, and drill, and drill.
“Once or twice doesn’t cut it,” Niemeyer said. “And just telling them doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to get out on the field and show them.”
“Larry taught the fine details of the game,” said Dennis Roloff, an assistant for Jefferson’s 1993 basketball title team who went on to find success as a head coach at Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Mount Vernon.
“Mechanics, strategy, the psychological effects ... he taught it all.”
Niemeyer resigned as basketball coach after the 2011-12 season, and Jefferson cut ties with him as softball coach in July 2012. Pappas hired him to coach softball at Waterloo West a few months later.
But by the next spring, health problems — he underwent kidney dialysis, multiple times per week, for more than a decade — forced Niemeyer to step down for good.
“It broke his heart,” Pappas said.
In 2013, Jefferson named its softball facility “Larry Niemeyer Field.” In 2016, he threw out the first pitch for a game at Wrigley Field.
Near the end of his career, in 2010, Niemeyer was asked about his legacy.
“I think that I'm a respected coach by my peers, in my profession. I think I've done it right. I've treated people with respect.”
What they said about Larry Niemeyer
Paul James, former girls’ basketball coach at archrival Cedar Rapids Washington:
“I think our first game was a one-point game in 1979, and it was symbolic to what the rivalry would be. We had some great games, great athletes on both sides.
“You knew what Larry’s teams would do, and they did it well. The techniques of post play, the sideline triangle, we’d call it.
“Larry and I talked within the last six months. We just talked about what a great rivalry that was.”
Dennis Roloff, former girls’ basketball assistant at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, then head coach at Cedar Rapids Kennedy:
“He had a hard crust outside, but once you got through that, you learned how concerned he was about you. I loved and respected him dearly.
“What a legend I got to learn from.”
Brian Erbe, former softball assistant at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, then a head coach at Cedar Rapids Xavier, then succeeded Niemeyer at Jefferson:
“He was a great friend, a great mentor. He got more out of kids than the kids ever thought they had in them.
“We’d get to talking, ‘Remember when So-and-So was an eighth-grader and she couldn’t catch a fly ball, and now she’s an all-stater.’
“He was a very devoted family man. His kids love him. His grandkids love him. And as his players left and got older, they realized what he did for them in their lives.”
“Sometimes he was hard to be around, but at the same time, you loved every minute of it.”
Jean Berger, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Winterset High School graduate (1977), pitched against Niemeyer’s Adel teams:
“I was scared of him. He was an intimidating, imposing figure. His teams were so well coached.”
“He was good for the game, and he was good for kids. As a young person, you don’t appreciate that until you’re out of school.”
Erin (Doud) Johnson, Jefferson Class of 1997:
“My senior year, I was coming back from a torn ACL, but I wasn’t cleared to play yet. He put me in for the final seconds at the state (basketball) tournament and just had me hold the ball until the clock ran out.”