After 30 years on the sidelines of Wyoming high school basketball and football teams, Buffalo High School head basketball coach John Hepp has decided to hand over the reins of the Bison cagers and start a new chapter without calling the shots from the bench.
Hepp handed in his resignation with a heavy heart, ending his time with the Bison with five state championships and a winning percentage most coaches can only dream of.
“Some older coaches told me that I would just know when my time was up. They were right,” Hepp said. “I think I’m giving up a team that’s No. 1 in the state in 3A right now. And I know everyone and their dog will want to put in for the position.”
As a head coach, Hepp won his first state basketball title with Douglas in 1999. The Bearcats hadn’t made the playoffs in the assistant. He then went on to coach the Bearcats football team that fall in his first year as head coach to the state championship game with a potent offense and stifling defense his future teams would be known for.
“We would have won that championship game but we lost our quarterback in the second quarter,” Hepp said. “I was a young coach and didn’t have a backup fully ready. Our quarterback hadn’t been touched all season. The kid that hit him is the head coach in Sheridan right now. There’s a lot of coaching connections out there for me.”
Hepp was a standout on the football field and came from a family of outstanding athletes. His father, Fred Hepp, was offered a full ride scholarship from legendary University of Wyoming and Nebraska football coach Bob DeVaney. Fred eventually opted for the Army where he got a chance to try out for the 1960 Olympic basketball team, going up against players from the top hoops schools in the nation.
“I did play basketball, too,” Hepp said. “I had a mean hook shot. I played physical.”
As a country kid growing up in Buffalo, taking over as head coach for the Bison wasn’t something he ever thought he would good enough to do, much less lead the Bison to multiple state championships and thrilling state tournament victories.
“It was an absolute honor to be the head coach in my hometown,” Hepp said. “As a kid I had no idea I would be the varsity coach for Buffalo High School.”
While he says he will miss the teams and the competition, he got to live out the ultimate coaching fantasy nearly a decade ago leading the Bison to the 2011 state title.
“The greatest thing I ever got to do was coach my son Jake in a championship game,” Hepp said. “That was a banner tournament beating Torrington with future UW star Jason McManamen on it.”
Hepp won’t completely step away from the game. He has been invited to six schools to help implement some of the presses the Bison have frustrated so many teams with for so many years. A girls basketball team will visit Buffalo in early June to work with Hepp on their defense as well.
“Faith has been big. Faith won us a lot of championships we had no business winning,” Hepp said. “But just getting to wear the black and gold on the sidelines for so many years has just been the biggest thrill and keeping that Buffalo mentality – never back down from anyone.”