clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

TCU is moving on from Jill Kramer, but her legacy is eternal.

New, comments

No one has had more influence on the TCU volleyball program

Jill Kramer (center) amassed 154 wins in her seven years as head coach of TCU volleyball.
Photo courtesy of gofrogs.com.

If you have not heard the news, TCU and former volleyball head coach Jill Kramer agreed to part ways last Monday afternoon.

Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star Telegram was the first on the TCU beat to report the news, but neither the team nor Kramer have officially made a statement about the news.

I spoke with Kramer personally on Monday night, and she officially confirmed for me that she is, indeed, moving on. She also shared that, for now, she does not know what her next step is coaching-wise.

Based on the fact that TCU is 24-53 in their last three seasons, many signs point to the fact that this was more of a firing than a resignation.

Based on what Kramer has done for this program and the uncontrollable factors that she has faced in the last four years (transfers, COVID-19), though, I’d like to believe this was at least somewhat of a mutual decision.

Regardless, what is most important about this situation is the last thing Kramer told me on Monday.

“I love TCU, TCU Volleyball and will always be its biggest supporter.”

Here’s my perspective on Kramer and why her legacy will always be an incredible one on the campus of TCU:

Putting me on

On August 25, 2018, TCU Volleyball took on SIUE in their third matchup of the Cowtown Classic.

For TCU, this was an important win, regardless of the opponent. It was their third-straight win to start the season, and it meant they had secured the Cowtown Classic trophy.

For a wide-eyed, 18-year-old student reporter, though, it was his first time to ever go to a sporting event for any purpose other than enjoyment.

Following the game, I passively wandered around until I found the volleyball SID and followed her into the room where the postgame press conference was being held. I was nervous as heck and had questions that I had written out word-for-word.

After a long wait, Kramer and outside hitter élan McCall walked in. It was also McCall’s first time to talk to the media (if you could call me that), so that gave me relief.

As I asked questions of both of them, I expected Kramer to be cold and put-offish to a student reporter who, clearly, had no idea what he was doing.

She was not, though. She answered every question professionally and in ways that put her players first. When she finished, she even told me, “Wow! That was a great job!” right after she said the same thing to McCall.

I walked out thinking that I had done an average job, at best. It turned out, though, that Kramer had asked that I be back to cover every single volleyball game for the rest of the season. Because of that, I moved from part-time volleyball beat writer to full time for TCU360.

If it were not for Kramer’s intentional highlight of my work that day, I likely would not have been given the opportunity to be the TCU360 sports editor the following year, meaning that I am confident that I would be far from where I am today without her influence.

From there, Kramer and I continued to build a relationship, and I was blessed to be able to host her show, “Coffee with Kramer” that spring.

I would then cover TCU volleyball for the next three years, and Kramer always made sure I had whatever interviews with her or her players that I ever needed. She even took time to come say “hi” to me when I was at Fuzzy’s with my grandma one time.

That’s just what Jill Kramer did, though. She put others first, even when it did very little to help her in any way. That’s just how she is wired.

Truly a pioneer

To fully understand the influence that Kramer has had on TCU volleyball, though, you have to go back to 1996, when she became the first-ever scholarship athlete in the history of the program.

I sat down for an extended talk with Kramer to talk about her volleyball journey in August, and she said that attending TCU for school was originally not even a thought because of their lack of a volleyball program during her high school days.

“As a volleyball player, if a school didn’t have a volleyball team, I didn’t know who they were. Why would I care, and why would I know?” Kramer said. “To be quite honest, my parents went to A&M, so I didn’t know anything about TCU.”

Growing up playing volleyball in San Antonio, Kramer (then Jill Pape) began to be recruited at the end of her junior year and the beginning of her senior year. TCU was far from her top choice, as she was eyeing schools like A&M, Tulane, Houston, and SMU.

In the end, Kramer took a chance with TCU—a small, private school attempting to start a volleyball program with basically a YMCA basketball gym for a facility. She described the Rickel (TCU’s current practice facility) as having broken down basketball backboards hanging off the walls.

“I was like, this is where you play? Are you kidding me?” Kramer said of her first impression.

What would eventually convince Kramer to go to TCU was the campus, the coaching staff, and most importantly, the other players who were also being recruited to be Horned Frogs.

Despite all the uncertainty surrounding the new program, Kramer still called playing on TCU’s first-ever volleyball squad as “really amazing.”

At this point, the Frogs played in the WAC, and though they struggled initially, Kramer said that the Fort Worth community rallied around them in major ways. She mentioned that some fans would even fly out to away games to cheer on TCU’s newest team.

At that point in time, the WAC was one of the premier volleyball conferences in the nation, featuring teams like Hawaii, San Diego State, BYU, Utah, and Colorado State.

Keep in mind that this was in 1996, before Gary Patterson helped put TCU Athletics on the map, which just says even more about the buzz that Kramer and that first team helped bring to the city over volleyball.

As things got rolling for TCU volleyball, their resources went up. Kramer was one of three scholarship players in their first year. In their second year, she was one of six. In their third year, she was one of nine. Finally, in her senior year, she was one of 12 scholarship players on a fully-funded TCU volleyball team.

With more scholarships came more success. The Frogs went just 4-30 in their inaugural season, but they improved to 13-18 the next year.

Given TCU’s situation, it’s no surprise that the Frogs leaned heavily on Kramer early.

“I took the most swings in the country my freshman year,” Kramer said.

The then-middle blocker (and eventually outside hitter) was not a bad person to lean on, though, as she still holds TCU records in career kills (1,595), kills in a season (626), and kills per set (5.22) and several other categories.

Considering her usage at the time, it’s unlikely that a TCU player will ever top Kramer’s records, though outside hitter élan McCall threatened to in 2018 and 2019. Testifying to her character, though, Kramer told me that she thought McCall’s success in Fort Worth before transferring to UCLA was “awesome.”

Regardless, Kramer will always be able to say she helped start a program, literally putting her body on the line for four years to get the ball rolling for TCU Volleyball.

The return

After graduating from TCU in 1999, not only did Kramer not think she would ever come back to TCU as a coach, but she did not even initially pursue coaching.

After graduating from the Neeley School of Business, Kramer had set her eyes on being a consultant. In 2003, though, she was offered an assistant role at UTSA, and “coach” Jill Kramer became a thing for the first time.

“There so many things that have to align for it to happen,” Kramer said about returning to TCU. “I applied for an assistant position in 2003 or 2004. That’s when I was at UTSA, so I came up here and interviewed for it any everything; but I didn’t get it.”

UTSA went to their conference tournament (Southland) each of the three years Kramer was there, and then she received an assistant position at Alabama. There, the Tide went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments.

While at UTSA, Kramer had to coach both college and club to both pay the bills and try to recruit for a school with a recruiting budget of $1000.

In 2007, she was inducted into the TCU Lettermen Association’s Hall of Fame.

From there, she became an assistant and lead-recruiter at Virginia. In her first season, the Cavaliers had the No. 15 recruiting class in the nation, their first-ever nationally-ranked class. In her second season, she recruited the No. 9 class.

Then, it was time for “head coach” Jill Kramer, as she accepted a job at a struggling West Virginia program. In her first two years, the Mountaineers made strides in the Big East, reaching the No. 1 spot in digs per set nationally at times and falling just shy of the conference tournament in 2011 at 15-15.

For the next three years, West Virginia was then a serious threat in the Big 12, finishing as high as No. 70 in the RPI in Kramer’s final season at the helm (2014).

Before she took the job in Morgantown, Kramer said that people were asking her why she was taking the job. When she left, the program mattered and was on the brink of making the NCAA tournament.

When the opportunity to become the head coach at her old stomping grounds came up at the end of 2014, though, Kramer could not resist.

“I thought, well, this opportunity will never come again to come here, or if it does, what are the chances?” Kramer said.

What first struck Kramer when she returned to campus was how much had changed since she had been an athlete at TCU. It wasn’t the dinky little private school in Fort Worth anymore. Going to TCU was cool now.

Over her seven years as head coach in Fort Worth, the Frogs made another step in that direction under Kramer’s leadership. Formerly competing in the Rickel (a shoulder-to-shoulder 2000 seats), TCU volleyball moved into Schollmaier Arena for their home games in 2020 (8,500 seats).

The move was just another way in which Jill Kramer helped TCU volleyball establish themselves as a legitimate program. In that August interview, she told me that the Frogs “could” break some attendance records this year.

Just a month ago, the biggest crowd in program history, 4,012, saw the Frogs fall in a five-set nail-biter against No. 6 Baylor. That does not happen without the impact of Jill Kramer.

From broken backboards to playing in a basketball arena, Kramer can truly say of TCU volleyball, “Started from the bottom. Now we’re here.”

Kramer’s seven years in Fort Worth were about far more than attendance records, though. In her first two seasons as head coach (2015, 2016), the Frogs made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, even advancing to the second round in 2016.

Over her seven seasons, Kramer coached countless all-conference and All-American players, eventually also reaching the 150 win mark with TCU this fall in a sweep of Louisiana Tech.

In classic Jill Kramer fashion, she gave all credit to the players she had coached after achieving the incredible accomplishment.

“To be honest, I don’t think about it that much,” Kramer said. “I think about all the hard work that every player I have ever coached has put into the game. It’s all about them, not something I do. So, I’m happy to be along for the ride on that.”

Leaving a legacy

To this day, it isn’t the thousands of kills as a player or even hundreds of wins as a head coach that stick out to me when I think about Jill Kramer’s legacy on the campus of TCU.

What will cause Jill Kramer to always be the most influential person in the history of TCU volleyball is the influence she had on the people around her.

As someone who could go to several other, more-established Division 1 schools, Kramer chose to help put TCU on the map.

Two decades later, not only has she left an impact on my career as a journalist, but she’s helped dozens of athletes grow into players and even people that they never thought they could be on the campus of TCU.

Easily one of the starkest examples of this is the Frogs’ all-time digs leader (1,611) Dani Dennison.

After graduating in May, Dennison decided to return to TCU in 2021 to play one more year for the Horned Frogs. Even more importantly than reaching the all-time digs mark this fall, Dennison is earned a Master’s degree in the same Neeley school of business from which Kramer once graduated.

“Dani is special too in a lot of ways,” Kramer said. “I think what makes her special is that it’s not like she came in like this. She was a great volleyball player coming in, but she has put so much time on her craft. She spent so much extra time in here.”

Following Kramer’s departure from TCU volleyball, I reached out to Dennison and asked her for a short reflection on her former head coach’s influence on her. Here’s what she said:

“Jill has impacted my career in so many different ways. On the court and off, she taught me how to be a great volleyball player, but an even better person. She really pushed me out of my comfort zone my freshman year and helped me grow into such a great leader. I owe a lot of my success to her. A lot of people don’t see what goes on behind the doors. Jill put a lot of time and effort into this program and invested so much into all of us. I can truly say I have never met a coach that has cared so much about her players, and I am so grateful she gave me another year to live out my dream. I am so thankful to have played for such a great coach for five years. I couldn’t picture myself at any other program or playing under anyone else. Volleyball brought me so many great memories and lifelong friends, and I am happy to have ended my career at TCU under Jill.”

There is nothing cookie cutter about that statement. Dennison, one of the great players in the history of the TCU volleyball program, could’ve sent me 20 words, yet she chose to be real about how influential Kramer had been on her life.

Dennison’s reflection is just a small view into the massive impact Kramer has had on the Horned Frog family, as I’ve never met an TCU athlete or coach that does not reflect the same sentiment.

When I asked Kramer what her goals were going forward, her first response was simply that she remains, “genuine.”

Obviously, TCU was unable to be as successful as desired in Kramer’s last few years at the helm. There’s no denying that. She would not deny that either. This article was not to pick a side on whether or not moving on from Kramer was the right decision.

The point is that no one has done more for TCU volleyball, and few more for TCU Athletics, than Jill Kramer. Her legacy, both on and off the court, is undeniable, and we cannot forget the ways she truly gave up herself to help give Fort Worth a love for the sport of volleyball.