Michael Scherer got a disconcerting phone call the Monday after Missouri played Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
One of Scherer’s former high school coaches at St. Louis Country Day played at Missouri State and told Scherer that Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was in line to be the Bears’ next head coach.
“I was hoping it wasn’t true,” Scherer said.
Of course, Scherer, a sophomore linebacker, also knew that Steckel had long desired the chance to run his own program.
“That’s what worried me,” Scherer said. “I got that call on Monday morning, and I was sitting there hoping it wasn’t true. I was thinking, ‘Oh, Missouri State, maybe they can’t pay him enough’ — just giving myself every excuse of why he was going to stay with us.”
Scherer’s wish wasn’t granted.
Steckel was introduced last Sunday as Terry Allen’s successor at the state’s second-largest university, Missouri State, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“It’s tough. I’m losing — well, not losing, because if I ever call him I know he’ll answer the phone — but I’m losing like a second father,” Scherer said.
That sentiment permeates the Tigers’ defense, but Steckel’s impending departure — he’ll stay on coach Gary Pinkel’s staff through the Citrus Bowl — hit the linebacker group particularly hard.
Steckel, 57, met with the linebackers, the position group he coaches, before practice the day he decided to fill the Bears’ vacancy and told them he was considering the job.
He also promised to text each of his position-group players about the decision before it was formally announced if he opted to leave, a promise he kept (and that made him a half-hour late to his own introductory news conference).
“I was pretty upset once I found out coach Stec is leaving, because he’s been like — I don’t want to say a father to me, but like a best friend,” junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers said.
Missouri’s players understand Steckel’s decision.
“I know he really wants to be a head coach, and, you should really write this: He’s getting old,” Scherer said. “… He’s an old man, but I’m happy that he’s finally got the chance to be a head coach.”
Known for a gruff demeanor, Steckel is beloved by his players as much for his hard-nosed approach to practice and games as his more genteel nature in handling MU’s student-athletes away from the field.
“He is (gruff), but that’s why you love him,” Scherer said. “He (gripes) and moans at you and you yell right back at him and he yells back, but it’s one of those things where, when we get off the field, he treats us like we’re his son.”
Brothers added, “You know coach Stec loves us. You can see it in the way he coaches and stuff like that. Once he let us know, he got all teary-eyed. We were trying to hold it back, too. We love coach Stec to death and didn’t want him to go, but we wish the best for him.”
Missouri can break the program record for victories in consecutive seasons with a bowl win against Minnesota on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla., but sending Steckel out on a good note has provided more motivation for the game.
“I stay up late at night thinking about that,” Scherer said. “We want to send him out on top, especially as his linebackers. We want to play a good game for him.”
Scherer said it’s not just Steckel who will be missed. He called Steckel’s wife, Mary Beth, a second mom and his daughter, Amanda, the sister he never had.
As hard as it is to see Steckel go, Missouri’s players wish him nothing but success as he lives his head-coaching dream.
“He’s going to be a great one,” Scherer said. “Don’t take this out of context, but I wish I could go play for him. It’s almost like that. … It’s tough, but I’m happy for him.”