URBANA — John Gremer, a former Illinois lineman and Urbana High teacher and coach, died Wednesday. He was 75.
Gremer was a two-time letter winner for Ray Eliot's Illini football teams in the 1950s, then was drafted by the AFL's Houston franchise in 1960. That year he began an extensive teaching and coaching career with Urbana, one that led to his inclusion in the school's Hall of Fame in 1996.
"You could almost call him a hard-nosed coach and no-nonsense, but he had a heart as big as all outdoors," said Dave Casstevens, who coached alongside Gremer for 23 years. "If there was a student in school that needed something, or if there were kids that were being picked on, well, they wouldn't dare do that when John was around. He had the kids at heart. I think that's one of the things I'll always remember about John: His ability to relate to the kids. He could get in your face and bawl you out, and the next minute he could give you a hug and a pat on the back."
Gremer, who graduated from Bloomington's Trinity High School, taught physical education and driver's education at Urbana. He was best known as an assistant coach for Warren Smith's Urbana football teams. Gremer, whose primary responsibilities included coaching the linemen, helped Urbana win 107 games and three Big 12 Conference titles from 1960 to '79. He also coached under Hal Wertich and Wayne Mammen, guiding three Big 12 champs and five playoff teams. In 1998, he was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In nine years as the Tigers' head wrestling coach, Gremer produced a Big 12 champ, a district champ and 16 state qualifiers. He also was an assistant and head baseball coach, his teams claiming Big 12 and district championships.
"All the kids loved Gremer," Urbana teacher David Lemons told The News-Gazette in 1997 upon Gremer's retirement. "Every kid who ever went to Urbana High School loved him, and every kid who ever went to Urbana High School can tell you his stories. You'd walk down the hall and there'd be laughter coming out of Gremer's classroom. The class was alive. Nobody fell asleep in Gremer's class."