Muellenberg, Kravik leave behind unparalleled legacy of success with Bangor football
When you look at the history of Bangor football, there is a clear delineation point that marked the beginning of the Cardinals’ climb into one of the top programs of the state: the arrival of Rick Muellenberg and Kevin Kravik.
Muellenberg, a former player and assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, first came aboard as Bangor’s head coach in 2000 and took over a football program that was a far cry from the powerhouse it became in the 2010s.
Kravik had served as the Cardinals’ head coach for four seasons prior to Muellenberg and guided the team to their first-ever conference title and playoff appearance in 1996. However, Bangor had just two total wins in the two seasons prior to Muellenberg’s arrival and little success historically as a program.
In fact, in the 42 seasons prior to Muellenberg joining the fold, Bangor had a paltry record of 101-233-9 (.308) and just the one conference title and playoff berth in 1996 under Kravik.
The Cardinals didn’t become state contenders overnight, but their methodical rise into becoming one of Wisconsin’s premier high school football programs soon began as they quickly became playoff regulars.
Muellenberg has many fond memories of those early days in his tenure, but none brighter than a statement win over rival Cashton in 2001.
The Eagles had bested their rivals in 28 of their previous 30 meetings and on that particular homecoming night were honoring the 20th anniversary of their 1981 state championship team. Bangor went into Cashton and handed the Eagles a 36-20 defeat.
“We happened to beat them 36 to 20. Now I don’t remember the scores of all games, just so you know, but that one was 36 to 20,” Muellenberg said. “And the tears in our guys’ eyes — it was just unbelievable. Every one of our players were just crying because of the elation they had. It was our No. 1 rival and we just hadn’t beaten them.”
It was a sign of things to come for the program.
The Cardinals made their second playoff appearance in school history in 2002 and rattled off four more postseason berths in a row after that. After missing out on the playoffs in 2007, they have made 12 in a row since then.
After solidifying itself as a consistent playoff contender, Bangor took its next step as a program by winning its first conference title and picking up its first postseason win under Muellenberg in 2008. The Cardinals went on to win the Scenic Bluffs in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and have won seven conference titles (and 41 conference games) in a row since 2014.
Bangor advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in 2010 and broke through for a Division 7 state championship in 2015 by beating Pepin/Alma 20-14 at Camp Randall Stadium. The Cardinals returned to Madison two years later to beat Black Hawk 37-14 and capture a second state title.
After the 2017 state championship, Muellenberg stepped aside and Kravik, who had rejoined the coaching staff as an assistant in 2007, filled in as interim head coach for the 2018 season. The Cardinals went 11-2, won another conference title and advanced to the state semifinals under Kravik.
He was a natural fit as an interim given his close working relationship with Muellenberg, who hails Kravik as one of the best defensive minds he has ever worked with.
“I will tell anybody that’s willing to listen that he is probably the best defensive mind that I have been around,” Muellenberg said of Kravik. “The nice thing about coaching with Kevin is we push each other to get better. And by that, I mean we would kind of question each other on things we were doing, but in a good way.
“It was always the both of us striving to do what we could to make the team better.”
Muellenberg returned as head coach for the 2019 season. He also had taken over as the middle/high school principal for the 2019-20 school year and soon decided that the balancing act was going to be too much for him to coach effectively in the way he was used to.
He was missing too many workouts and practices during the summer and spending too many nights up past midnight grinding film.
“I decided to try to (coach) while I was the full-time principal. All my assistants had stayed. And it was pretty apparent in 2019 that the workload was just too much based on the way we run our program,” Muellenberg said. “One of my philosophies has always been that, as the head coach, I need to be the hardest-working coach on the team. I was delegating more to the assistants and I don’t feel good about that. It shouldn’t be that way.”
The COVID-19 pandemic through a curveball in his plans and Muellenberg opted to stick around for one more season to avoid adding a coaching change to the chaos and uncertainly the pandemic was already causing.
In that final alternate season this spring, the Cardinals went 7-0. There was no postseason to look forward to this time, so Muellenberg’s curtain call came after eking out a 33-28 win over rival Cashton and throttling Royall 38-0 in the season finale to secure one final Scenic Bluffs title.
Muellenberg officially submitted his letter of resignation to the school board earlier this month. Kravik also is stepping away as an assistant and will be retiring as Bangor’s activities director at the end of June, though ideally a new head football coach will be selected by then. Assistant coaches Josh Chaplin and Todd Grant are expected to remain with the program.
When all is said and done, Muellenberg posted a 162-55 record with two state titles, 10 conference championships, five state semifinal appearances and 16 playoff berths to his credit.
There have been plenty of memorable wins along the way — the two state titles, the first conference title under Muellenberg in 2008, clinching another conference title in New Lisbon in the pouring rain in 2009 and a Level 3 win over Edgar in 2017 in the snow, just to name a few — but it is of course the relationships with players and coaches through the years that stand out most to Muellenberg.
He is hopeful the high level of commitment from the players continues for whoever his successor winds up being. He notes the high turnout during voluntary summer workouts as a huge factor in Bangor’s sustained success.
Muellenberg says he will still be around to help out the football program in any way that he can, but this is undoubtedly the end of an era. And one that Bangor fans will never forget.
“I hope people look at this period and recognize how hard the kids worked to get to where they were and get the program where it’s at,” Muellenberg said. “I feel fortunate to have been part of it. I’m one piece of many that came along to make it what it is. My hope and my goal obviously is that the program stays at a high level. Whoever takes it over, I will help them in any way that I can to help maintain that.”