Steckel remembers times with Titans, others

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 15, 2019 at 5:27 PM

One yard short.

It’s part of the title of former NFL coach Les Steckel’s autobiography and one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history.

As the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans for Super Bowl 34, Steckel knows the play all too well. St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackles Titans receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the end zone to preserve a 23-16 victory.

The 72-year-old Steckel, whose autobiography is titled “One Yard Short: Turning Your Defeats Into Victories,” has seen the play so often, he knows it by heart.

“Mike Jones made a great play at the end. I’ve been asked what you would refer to that play because they show it every year before the Super Bowl,” said Steckel, the guest speaker for Friday’s Salvation Army Souper Bowl for the Hungry at the Holiday Inn. “I remember (49ers wide receiver) Dwight Clark with “The Catch. I would call it ‘The Tackle.’ I did a governor’s prayer breakfast in Missouri a couple of years ago and the governor asked me to speak. Who did he have as a a special guest? Mike Jones. We had fun reminiscing about it. But it was meant to be because the book has impacted many people’s lives.”


Steckel was glad to lend a hand to the Salvation Army through the United Way of Washington County. Last year, the organization served 70,462 meals to the hungry in the community, provided 9,537 nights of care to the homeless and helped 4,512 people with clothing, household items, food baskets and rent or utilities assistance. For Christmas, 1,794 children received toys and clothing though the Angel Tree program.

In addition, Steckel served as the seventh President and CEO of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes from March 2005 to December 2016. He has been involved with the organziation since first attending a FCA conference in 1972. He and wife Chris have both served on the FCA National Board of Trustees.


Steckel’s coaching career spanned over 32 years. He was a college coach at the University of Colorado and the Naval Academy before his NFL career began with the San Francisco 49ers in 1978. He served as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings one year with Archie Manning in his final season as quarterback and was the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans AFC championship teams.

He was also an offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a position coach for the Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills.

Steckel was a light heavyweight Golden Gloves boxing champion at the University of Kansas before enlisting in the Marine Corps, where he served as an infantry officer in Vietnam. He joined the Marine Corps reserves in 1972, serving his required time during 27 straight summers after NFL training camps had ended. He retired as a Colonel, receiving the Navy Commendation Medal.

Taking a one-year sabbatical from professional football, he coached his son Luke’s Brentwood High School to the Tennessee Class 5A state championship in 2002. Wearing the state championship ring on Friday, he called it the best coaching job he ever had and a reminder of God’s plan. Today, Luke Steckel serves as an offensive assistant with the Titans.


The elder Steckel’s other Super Bowl appearance was as offensive coordinator for the 1985 New England Patriots with Tony Eason as the quarterback. Facing one of the great defenses of all-time, the Patriots were defeated 46-10 by the Chicago Bears and their “Monsters of the Midway” defense.

Steckel has often revisited that game while working out at the Nashville YMCA with coach Rex Ryan, the ESPN analyst and son of then-Bears’ defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

“Playing the Bears, that was the only game in the 32 years I coached that I didn’t think we were going to win,” Steckel recalled. “I was thinking, can we even get a first down? It was a great accomplishment to get to the Super Bowl. Tony Eason was my favorite quarterback other than (the Titans) Steve McNair, who was the toughest guy I’ve ever been around. Steve had a root canal with no medication.”


Steckel’s one season in Minnesota meant following fellow military veteran and coaching legend Bud Grant. Although hand-picked as Grant’s successor, he lasted just one season when the former coach decided he wanted to return to the sidelines. While Steckel had dreamed of being a NFL head coach, he quickly found out being an assistant was more his style.

“If you love the strategies, the X’s and O’s, the relationships with the players and calling plays, you don’t want to be a head coach,” he said. “I had a burning desire to do that like every assistant does, but you find out you’re not a football coach anymore. I call it a firefighter because you’re putting out fires all day long. I’m still glad I had the opportunity to experience it.”


While at the Naval Academy, Steckel was on the coaching staff with Steve Belichick, the father of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He gave the younger Belichick the nickname, “Little Billy,” which has stuck all these years.

“He gets mad when I call him ‘Little Billy’ in front of people,” Steckel said. “But you could tell when he got the chalkboard out and started the X’s and O’s, it was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He thought about football all the time. I will say what he is doing is impossible to do. It’s a quarterback league and in my opinion, Tom Brady is the best. Peyton Manning was right there with him because of his work ethic.

“What the Patriots do is preach team. What’s nice about their longevity is when you walk into their locker room, you can sense the culture. At New England, there are no issues like with other teams. Dante Scarnecchia is one of my best friends. He’s their offensive line coach and he’s been there since 1983. He tells me it’s the most unselfish team. I step back and I think that’s what made the 1999 Titans so good. They were an unselfish bunch where Eddie George didn’t care. Steve McNair didn’t care. Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer, they all just wanted to win.”

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