Shenendehowa (Clifton Park, N.Y.)
football head coach Brent Steuerwald can be described as a record-setter, Hall-of-Famer, National Coach of the Year and state champion. He even has a stadium named in his honor.
At the end of this season there will be one additional adjective used to describe the 76-year-old head coach: Retired.
Steuerwald announced at the beginning of this season that it would be his last. It ends a career that has spanned 54 years, including coaching stints at Olean and Glens Falls before being hired as Shenendehowa's first director of athletics and physical education in 1968. He became the school's first football head coach that same year.
"I was very fortunate to have the opportunity I did coming to Shenendehowa," says Steuerwald, whose 318 career wins rank third in New York history and 15th nationally among active head coaches. "But I never wanted to leave when the program was struggling. We have a very strong setup now. Whoever comes in is going to have a very good team."
And enormous shoes to fill.
"Brent has led the football program with hard work, dedication to excellence and outstanding leadership," Shenendehowa principal Don Flynt wrote in an email. "He has served as a role model for his players and his coaching staff and colleagues, not to mention those administrators and athletic directors he has worked with. He will be missed."
Steuerwald will be missed, but he's not done yet. The Shenendehowa icon looks no further into the future than the next play. In fact, even as a potential game-winning — and thus season- and career-ending — field goal was taking place during last week's NYSPHSAA quarterfinal playoff game against North Rockland, the optimistic coach says the fact that it might have been his last game never crossed his mind.
"To be honest," the five-time state coach of the year recalled, "I was thinking to myself that surely he will miss it and we'll have to go back out on defense for the second overtime. And then if they kick a field goal do I go for a field goal and a tie or a touchdown and the win when we get the ball back. My mind was so embroiled in that I never thought about the fact that it could be the end."
The field goal was missed and in the second overtime Tony Fusco
scored on a one-handed catch and leap into the end zone to send Shenendehowa (11-0), a perennial Section II power, into Saturday's semifinal against Newburgh Free Academy (9-1). MaxPreps NYSPHSAA Class AA playoff brackets
"That was certainly an exciting win, and I get asked all the time, but I don't rank my favorite teams or best performances," admitted Steuerwald, who led the school to three straight state titles from 1982-84. "But I can tell you there's something special about each team and each season that I'll never forget. Each team has a very special place in my heart."
He's an educator, a leader and a clinician.
Like most highly successful high school coaches, Steuerwald turned down several opportunities to coach at the college level.
"The college opportunities didn't appeal to me as much as running a full athletic program and coaching my physical education teachers to be good educators," recalled Steuerwald, who said Springfield College was his most tempting offer. "College coaching is pure football all year long. At Shenendehowa, I enjoyed what I was doing outside of football."
Among those outside interests, Steuerwald served as president of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Capital District from 1987 until 2010. He can rattle off facts and figures about the history of New York high school football as if he's reading them from a book.
In addition, one of his greatest joys and honors has been the opportunity to travel around the world conducting coaching clinics. It's something he plans to continue after retirement.
"I want to continue to teach coaches that it isn't what you know about the sport, but everything else that's associated with coaching that matters most," says Steuerwald, who has been published in several magazines and professional journals.
He's been influential, a difference-maker and a father figure.
"I enjoy getting a phone call or letter or a big hug from a former player who tells me, ‘I wanted to tell you for so long how much my playing football for you meant to me and helped me make decisions in all areas of my life,'" Steuerwald shared with a hint of emotion in his voice.
Current senior captain Mark Thomas
claims Steuerwald has influenced his life unlike anyone except his parents.
"Coach changed my life completely," Thomas relayed in a text message. "He turned me into a hardworking determined person. After meeting and playing for him, I haven't given up once. My grades and my lifestyle have improved. He is one of the most influential people I know. I owe him everything I am as a football player and a person."
And the coach's impact dates back decades.
"We had a lot of success when we played and that was a foundation for when we left school and went on to our careers and raising a family," says Michael Bonesteel, who quarterbacked the 1971-72 teams and went on to serve as a business agent for the Verizon union. "How he handles both adversity and accomplishments with class, and also treated everyone the same regardless of skills, is something that helped me in my negotiations with people in the union."
Michael Peacock played tailback on the first of Shenendehowa's three state championship teams and then went on to attend Duke University on a football scholarship. He credits Steuerwald for much of his success, not only on the football field, but in his career.
"I can't imagine what my life would be like today without having played for him," Peacock says. "He taught us the value of hard work, persistence, dedication, stick-to-itiveness and setting goals. All of these values have been the foundation for my success in my career and in my life."
If there was one message he hoped his players took with them after their playing days were over, Steuerwald said without hesitation: "I always tell my kids to make good choices, be as good as you can be, and everything else will take care of itself."
Steuerwald, the proud father of four athletic daughters, likes to hunt, fish and do yard work.
"I'm sure I'll drive my wife nuts for a while," he jokes about retirement. "I will need to find things that will occupy me and keep me busy. I'm bad at sitting on my butt and doing nothing. I'll travel some, but I can only sit on a beach for just so long."
Steuerwald has accepted the fact that it's only a matter of time before he travels across the football field to shake an opposing coach's hand for the last time.
"It's not easy to give this up because I've enjoyed every moment," he says with a pause. "As each week has gone along since we qualified for the playoffs, I've realized that each game could be my last. That part is very sad to me."Jon Buzby is a sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at email@example.com.