John Kemper was a lineman at Barlow and Linfield.
John Kemper was a lineman at Barlow and Linfield.

Tigard has hired assistant John Kemper as head football coach.

Kemper replaces Craig Ruecker, who retired in December. Kemper joined the Tigard staff when Ruecker was hired in 2009 and has served as the team’s offensive line coach for 10 seasons.

“It’s awesome. It’s an honor to be able to follow an all-time great, and to kind of be brought up under him,” Kemper said of Ruecker, who is fourth on the state’s all-time list with 308 wins. “I’m excited to get to take over a program that has had so much success. But with that comes pressure to do a good job.”

Kemper, a 2003 Barlow graduate, was a lineman for the Bruins. He went on to play offensive line at Linfield (2003-07), where he broke into coaching as an assistant in 2008.

The following year, through a college roommate, he connected with Ruecker and was hired as a Tigard assistant. As the offensive line coach, he worked on the offensive game plan with Ruecker.

"He has been involved in all stages of us developing the program to where it is today," Ruecker said of Kemper. "I believe he is a great hire for the position of head coach at Tigard and has the best chance of continuing the culture that has been created over the past 10 years."

Kemper, 33, said that becoming a head coach has been on his mind since his playing days at Barlow under Terry Summerfield, whom he considers a “great mentor.”

“I didn’t know if that trigger would ever be pulled until probably three or four years ago,” said Kemper, a PE teacher at Tigard. “I had some opportunities – some schools reached out to me – but it wasn’t the right fit or the right time for me.”

Knowing that Ruecker was nearing retirement, Kemper decided to stay at Tigard and see what unfolded. His wife, Kerstin, also works in the school district.

“I was like, ‘We’ve got a great thing going here, and when Craig decides to be done, then this is where I want to be,’” Kemper said. “We have roots set up here. I didn’t want to establish them somewhere else.”

Kemper was hired Monday during a teachers in-service day at the school. At Wednesday’s letter-of-intent signing ceremony for seniors Noah Jackman and Isaia Tavita Porter, Ruecker announced the hiring of Kemper to those in attendance.

Kemper said that Ruecker, who was part of the hiring committee, “is definitely in my corner. He’s there to support me with anything I need along the way. As far as a coaching role, that’s not anything he’s interested in.”

Kemper is in the early stages of building his coaching staff. He said there will be holdovers from Ruecker’s staff as well as some new hires.

He said any tweaks he makes to the offense will depend on the team’s personnel.

“We’re going to base our offense and defense, year in and year out, on the kids we have,” he said.

Tigard has been one of the state’s most consistently successful programs in the past decade. The Tigers won at least 10 games in seven of the last eight seasons, reaching the 6A semifinals five times under Ruecker. They went 10-2 last season, losing in the quarterfinals.

“We have a ton of talent coming back, especially at the skill positions,” Kemper said. “We do lose four of our five starting offensive linemen, and some really good players on defense, especially in the front seven. So there are definite spots that need to be filled, but I’m confident that we’ll get the right guys in the right spots.”

With a robust turnout, Tigard has been known for reloading rather than rebuilding. Maintaining that edge will be part of Kemper’s challenge.

“That starts with building quality players from the time they enter our program all the way through the varsity level,” Kemper said. “The youth is such a big part of what we do.”