Dave Steckel would have been happy with his career had he retired an assistant coach. He had a great job on an entrenched, close staff at Missouri, a handful of division championships in both the Big 12 and the SEC and scores of former players in the NFL. But, as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter last week, there was a chance he'd find himself on a beach somewhere drinking Jack Daniels and listening to Bruce Springsteen while wondering what might have been.
Steckel didn't want to take that chance, so at age 57 he jumped down a division to take his first head coaching job at Missouri State.
Matter conducted a long interview with Steckel packed full of great information. We've plucked out the cream of the crop below. Take a look at the mind of a long-time assistant turned first-time head coach:
On the workload jumping from assistant to head coach... It’s not even close. I was lucky enough in this business to have an older brother. He’d always say, “When you’re a GA, don’t talk about how you could be an assistant because you have no idea. When you’re an assistant don’t talk about the coordinator because you have no idea. When you’re the coordinator don’t talk about being the head coach because you have no idea.” Now I can sit back and say I’ve experienced all those positions, and all those coordinators and assistants out there have no idea. They have no idea what (Gary Pinkel) is thinking, why he’s thinking. Just like when I became a coordinator you think and do certain things.
On having to expand his field of vision as a head coach... Everybody lives in their own little glass bubble. Everybody does. You don’t really care about the other articles being written in the paper. You care about your articles. Because that’s the most important thing. Position coaches are worried about their position. Coordinators are worried about their offense and defense and special teams. The head coach has to worry about everything. When I say everything it takes it a step further to trainers, equipment people, strength coaches, all the other things, the media, that I didn’t have to worry about as an assistant.
On his priorities as head coach... At the end of the day, I care about the trainers taking care of our players, the academic people taking care of our players, the equipment guy taking care of our players. They’re a facet of the process because the process is the players. There’s nothing more important in the world than the players and that they understand some day, which they don’t here right now, but I don’t have a job if it’s not for them. But they don’t have a future if it’s not for the coaches. We’re all in this together. That’s where it all starts. The priority will always be that.
On his practice plans... My practice plans look just like G.P.’s because I believe in him. I’ve been with him for so long because I believed in the plan. Once that plan isn’t the same, then things change. You’re like a dinosaur. You have to think of your plan and evolve and adapt it to the FCS level and hopefully that’ll make you survive. There’s no question I believe in the plan. I surrounded myself with coaches who are really intelligent and we believe in the plan.
On his role in practice... I won’t coach the offense. I won’t coach the defense. I’ll coach locking the ball away, running to the football. I’ll coach burst after you catch the ball. I’ll coach making that cut. I’ll coach them to stay low on the offensive line. I’ll coach them to be more physical and tough. But the fundamentals, that’s why I hired great coaches. I’m just trying to coach toughness, effort and finishing.
On his assistants... Not to be egotistical, but I hired guys who are more intelligent than me and are hard working. They can look at it like I’m launching their career, but I brought them here because they can help launch mine. I brought guys that I believe in, that I trust, that I want to crawl into a foxhole with. Did I launch their career? Selfishly, I don’t know. They’re launching mine. I’m happy with the guys I hired. I’m ecstatic about them.
On fundraising for the first time... For me, I want to supplement the budget so I can take care of our players, take care of recruiting, help expand recruiting and help develop our coaches, i.e., be able to go to conventions and trips to go study football. Those things cost money. The message I want to get across to alums isn’t, “Thanks a lot. I’m going to stick it in my pocket.” It’s to help our players, help recruiting and to help develop our staff. There’s a plan in place. It’s not like, hey, we’ve got all this money. Let’s go buy a new football.
On changing the culture at Missouri State... These kids are really trying hard but sometimes they look at me like I’ve got 10 heads and they’re saying, “We’re trying.” I tell them there’s no such thing as trying. You either do it or you don’t. You either run to the ball or you didn’t run to the ball. You either caught the ball or you didn’t catch the ball. We’re trying to change that culture and change their thought process. That’s all it is. I really believe in my heart — unless I’m wearing rose-colored glasses, which I don’t think I do — we have some really talented kids here. We have some talent. Now what they have to do is take those talents God gave them and multiply them, like it says in Matthew: Go multiply your talents.