For the first time in more than a quarter century, Lewis-Palmer High School will have a new head varsity football coach.
Tony Ramunno, 54, resigned July 10 due to health reasons. Defensive coordinator Dustin Tupper has been named as his replacement.
Ramunno cited a bad heart valve as the reason why he is stepping away.
“The doctor said it’s getting to the point where it needs more attention,” Ramunno said. “My doc said I need some work done on it sooner than later.
“I’ve been keeping a close eye on it for a while and there’s no need to mess with something like this.”
Ramunno’s doctor told him that he likely has had a heart murmur his entire life.
The long-time Lewis-Palmer coach leaves with head coaching record of 146-117 over 25 seasons. He was an assistant at the school for five years before he took over the head position.
“Things will be different without having Tony around as much, but this has been the plan for a while (for me to take over),” Tupper said. “It just happened sooner than we thought.”
Ramunno - by far - had the longest tenure of any head coach in El Paso County. He directed his teams to the postseason 10 times. The Rangers reached the quarterfinals four times; the last two coming 2010 and 2011 at the Class 3A level. Lewis-Palmer missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
“It’s been a great ride,” said Ramunno, who didn’t rule out returning to head coaching down the road. “I’ve coached a lot of great kids and worked with a lot of great people along the way.”
Ramunno joined the Lewis-Palmer staff in 1983, where he was in charge of running backs and linebackers. Lewis-Palmer played at the 2A level in those days.
Ramunno was the team’s offensive coordinator his entire tenure as the school’s head coach.
“We grew from 2A to 3A to 4A and then to 5A for a couple of years,” Ramunno said. “Then when the school split (in 2008) we dropped back down.”
Lewis-Palmer was around 2,000 students in the mid 2000s when construction began on Palmer Ridge. Ramunno’s offensive coordinator at the time - Monte Gutowski - left to become the head coach of Palmer Ridge. Gutowski left Palmer Ridge after the 2011 season, but recently was hired to the head coach of Manitou Springs.
“Back in the day we had something like 12 or 13 coaches on our staff,” Ramunno said. “And three-quarters of them were in the building.”
Ramunno’s staff was cut in half when the school split. Today, Tupper has six assistant coaches. He is the only full-time teacher in the building.
“There’s been a dramatic change in education since I was hired,” Ramunno said. “This is not the ideal way to go, but that seems to be the direction we’re heading.”
Tupper, 33, joined Ramunno’s staff in 2006 as the wide receivers coach. He took over as the defensive coordinator in 2007 and will remain in that position this season.
Dave Jones has been promoted to offensive coordinator.
The rest of Tupper’s staff consists of Sean Hannon (offensive and defensive backs), Doug Warner (offensive and defensive line), John Pounder (freshmen head coach), Chris Chapman (freshmen defensive coordinator) and Jake Oakey (freshmen line coach).
“Tony has not left the cupboard bare,” Tupper said. “We’re far enough along in our preparation to where we have a pretty good idea of where we will be this year.”
The program took a hit in the spring when starting quarterback Paul Tillotson and No. 1 receiver Jonathan Scott (both juniors) decided that they would not play football this season. Ramunno began working with three sophomores to help fill the void.
“We’re going to rely on our backs and linemen to carry us this year,” Tupper said. “We’ve taken a hit, but we’ll bounce back.”
The Rangers were 4-6 last season. A rash of injuries to key personnel led to rough go of things in the South Central League for the Rangers last season. Discovery Canyon won the league title and earned the No.1 overall seed in the playoffs. Second-place Coronado won the 3A state championship.
“The league is only going to get tougher this year with the addition of Canon City,” Tupper said.
The Rangers open their season at Evergreen on Friday, Aug. 29.
The rivalry with Palmer Ridge has also been renewed after a two-year hiatus. The two teams square off in Week 3 (Sept. 12) at Don Breese Stadium. Lewis-Palmer will be the home team.
“It’s good to get that rivalry going again,” Tupper said. “I think it will be good for the community.”