Almost all our readers will remember “The Music City Miracle” and the Tennessee Titans playing in the Super Bowl. Coach Les Steckel of Brentwood, who was the Titans Offensive Coordinator at the time, is a unique part of that legacy. However, my interview with him is about more than one professional football game or even a season. The following includes my questions/comments and his response.
Your careers with professional football teams…and as a Marine were used by the Lord to help “mold and shape” you. Please explain.
I joined the Marine Corps the day after I graduated from college. The leadership training and my tour in Vietnam as a young lieutenant helped mature and educate me in many ways. I learned the importance of setting the example through my walk and attitude; of seeking responsibility, and training your men to operate as a team. The challenges of my Marine Corps experience set a foundation of team-building, hard work, and leadership I’d carry into my coaching career. (Proverbs 12:24 – “Work hard and become a leader, be lazy and never succeed.”)
Share what it was like being the youngest head coach in the NFL when you were with the Minnesota Vikings.
Being a head coach in the NFL is overwhelming. At age 37, I was definitely not ready to be the head football coach of the Minnesota Vikings. As the youngest HFC in the League, I was naïve, reckless and, at times, out of control. Unbending in the demands I put on the players and oblivious to the need to transition slowly from Bud Grant’s style to mine without a new coaching staff to support me, it was a tough year…and that’s all I got—one year. In retrospect, should I have done things differently? Absolutely. I had a lot to learn. But, if I accomplished anything in that tumultuous year, it was addressing the drug issues that were rampant on our team and throughout the League. While drug testing was not condoned by the League, it was something I believed couldn’t wait, nor the necessary treatment that followed for many of our players. While it didn’t make me popular, the following year the NFL stepped up with league-wide testing which continues still today.
When my wife Chris and I look back on that year (1984), we see God’s hand and redirection in our lives. As ambitious as I was, had I not been thrust into the role of HFC at such a young age, I might have spent the rest of my career chasing it and missed out on what I value most in coaching football—the relationships with players and the responsibility of developing the strategies of the game.
(James 1:2-4 – “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For
When your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow,
For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”)
What “takeaways” resulted from being Offensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and going to the Super Bowl?
I was so excited for our team that I still view as the most unselfish, team-focused and talented group of players I have ever had the privilege to coach. Our mantra that year was “it’s amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit”. To see them run on to the field in Atlanta for Super Bowl XXXIV with all the hype and media blitz in such an electric atmosphere put a huge smile on my face. In a game that certainly didn’t start the way we’d hoped, our second half comeback was indicative of the heart and toughness of this team. In the end we came up “one yard short” – heartbreaking for all of us. It’s a day I’ll never forget. From the kickoff to the final whistle, despite the rollercoaster of emotions that come with a game of that magnitude, God gave me his peace throughout. Even as I knelt to pray at the bed in my hotel room after the game, asking the Lord, “Really? One yard? Why, Lord?” As I waited patiently for some response, I heard clearly in the depths of my mind and heart this challenge: “Les, today your team came up one yard short of victory…do you know how many people out there are one yard short of eternal victory? I expect you to go tell them.” Little did I know what he had ahead for me but it was a turning point in my commitment to share his Truth.
(Proverbs 16:1 – “We can make our plans but the final outcome is in God’s hands.”)
My interview with Coach Steckel will conclude next month (October) with his comments about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, retirement and much more. Be watching for more about his interesting and storied career.
Ralph E. Vaughn