Lamppa hanging it up - Ely football coach retires after guiding Wolves to four state berths

by Tom Coombe -

Brian Lamppa, 9-man football, and Ely’s high school football program proved to be a winning combination.
Their paths nearly converged in 2010, when Lamppa took over as head football coach in Ely just a year before the program descended to the 9-man level.
Cut to the present and Lamppa, who announced his retirement last month, is leaving after guiding the program to its most successful decade ever on the gridiron. He led the Timberwolves to four state tournament berths in a five-year span from 2012-16, and will leave after compiling a 60-25 record on the sidelines.
The timing, according to the 62-year-old Lamppa, made sense. He will also retire from his physical education and teaching duties at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
“The big thing is I am planning on retiring from teaching,” said Lamppa. “My wife’s also retired so it’s just a good time, and I believe if you’re gong to coach you have to be in the building every day.”
Lamppa, who spent 20 years coaching football in neighboring Babbitt, including seven as head coach, came to Ely in 2010 amid a downturn in the program’s fortunes.
The Wolves struggled as one of the smallest schools in the state to play 11-man football, and participation numbers were dwindling. At Lamppa’s first practice, less than 20 players donned helmets.
Ely went 3-6 that first year, but a move to 9-man was imminent and the groundwork had been laid for big things to come, with Lamppa quickly instilling his imprint - and bellowing voice - on the program.
“’I talked to that first group of seniors the spring before and asked ‘what do you want from me?’” Lamppa recalled earlier this week. They said ‘we want discipline.’ I said I can supply that.”
A winning season followed and the tide turned in a big way in the fall of 2012, when the Wolves sent 6-2 in the regular season, downed Kelliher-Northome in the section semifinals and ventured to Duluth’s Public School Stadium, where the Wolves won their first section 9-man title with a 26-6 shellacking of Bigfork.
“That was unbelievable,” said Lamppa. “We lost a couple of close games during the year but we thought we should have had the number-one seed. We had to beat a good Kelliher-Northome team in the semifinals and then we took care of Bigfork.”
The section title win was a booster rocket for the Wolves and the program and community, which caught football fever.
Three more state tournament berths followed, including a pair of trips to the state semifinals.
Perhaps the most memorable was in 2013, when the Wolves won 12 straight games before hooking up with eventual champion Underwood in a classic state battle in the Metrodome at Minneapolis.
Ely fell 34-20 but had its chances in a game that brought busloads of fans from Ely to Minneapolis, as well as alumni from around the Twin Cities.
“The year we went to the Dome was one of the highlights,” said Lamppa. “Just to get down there was so big, and we had a chance to win the game.”
Lamppa credited a talented nucleus who “bought in” to the program and the coaching styles of himself and assistant Cory Lassi, who served as defensive coordinator during his entire tenure.
“We really had some great leadership from our seniors all of those years,” said Lamppa.
Ely would reach the state semifinals again in 2015, this time advancing to St. Cloud before running into the Underwood juggernaut.
That season was marked by one of the most memorable playoff victories in Ely history - a come-from-behind effort against traditional 9-man powerhouse Stephen-Argyle on the artificial turf at Bemidji State University.
“Looking back, beating Stephen-Argyle is definitely one of my high points,” said Lamppa.
Lamppa said he will miss the players, the games, and his fellow coaches next fall and conceded there will likely be a void.
“I’m sure it will hit me next August,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 28 seasons.”
The football position has been posted by the Ely School District and a new coach is expected to be hired within the next several weeks.