(Left to Right) John Roush, Andy Frye, and Les Steckel
Centre College football coach Andy Frye was not sure what he was going to do when he lost two assistant coaches in mid-December.
Normally, that would have still given Frye plenty of time to find replacements before the next season started for his Division III team. But there was no fall season due to COVID-19 and the Colonels are slated to open an abbreviated four-game Southern Athletic Association (SAA) schedule Feb. 6.
“In this profession, it is a lot about networking. We needed to find temporary help but almost everybody in Division II and Division III is playing in the winter and spring. It’s not like I could rob another program to get someone to come here, especially for 2 1/2 months,” Frye said.
If Centre College was in Louisville and not Danville, Frye probably could have found former college or maybe even NFL coaches willing to help. If not, there likely would have been plenty of veteran high school coaches that might have been available.
Instead, Frye got creative and hit the coaching jackpot. He now has a former NFL head coach on his staff along with a former college president. Try to find another collegiate coaching staff that can match that.
Recently retired Centre College president John Roush and former NFL head coach Les Steckel, who was also offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans when they made the Super Bowl, are on staff helping to get the Colonels ready to play at Berry Feb. 6. Roush will coach running backs and Steckel the quarterbacks.
Roush spent 22 years as Centre’s president and always has had an avid interest in sports. Roush, age 70, was an assistant football coach at Miami of Ohio from 1973-75 when Miami went 32-2-1 with three bowl wins, was ranked in the top 25 each year and beat Purdue (twice), South Carolina (twice), Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. Two of the running backs — Sherman Smith and Rob Carpenter — coached by Roush went on to play a combined 18 seasons in the NFL.
Frye knew plenty about Roush’s short but successful coaching career before he went into administration. Since Roush still has a home in Danville, Roush reached out. Roush had just one reservation.
“He said would love to do it but only if his grandson, Sam, was not playing (football) this spring in California. Sam has signed to play football at Stanford but California is not playing high school football due to COVID-19. With California shut down, he was willing to do it,” Frye said. “The biggest thing for me was just getting someone with his passion. Our kids are ecstatic he will be with us.”
Frye knew Steckel, who recently retired as president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and about two years ago had him speak to his coaching staff. Steckel, age 74, has over 45 years of experience coaching in the NFL and college. He was head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and also worked for the 49ers, Patriots, Broncos, Oilers, Titans, Bills and Buccaneers.
“I knew he was retired and was also good friends with John Roush,” Frye said. “He lives in Nashville where his son coaches with the Titans. Les is a very good coach and he definitely still has it.”
Frye said both men not only bring a wealth of experience but are passionate about wanting to do something to help the “lives of these guys” as well coaching football.
Both new assistant coaches will have to learn terminology, formations and other parts of Centre football. Roush has not coached for over 40 years but spent over 20 hours last week before the team started practice going over plays and more with Frye, who has been at Centre since 1989.
“They are both incredible students of the game,” Frye said.
Frye admits he did have to tell his players a little bit about Steckel’s resume. His last year in the NFL was 2003 with the Bills — he did coach his son’s high school team one season and won a Tennessee state high school title — before joining the FCA.
“Most of these players were maybe 4 years old when he last coached,” Frye said. “Les doesn’t share a lot of stories to make his points but once in a while he might point out something about (former Dallas Cowboys coach) Tom Landry and (Dallas receiver) Bob Hayes. They won’t get that. Same if I tell them he worked for Raymond Berry, who is in the NFL Hall of Fame.”
What about Frye? Will he be intimated with a former NFL coach around as well as the former Centre president who raised over $170 million to renovate campus during his tenure?
“It could be if you did not know their personalities,” the Centre coach said. “They are both extremely humble. That’s one reason I went to them. It’s not a problem of ego with them. In most professions when you are very good, there is going to be ego.
“John isn’t coming in like he knows it all and Les is the same way. Ben (Fox), our offensive coordinator, and Les are joined at the hip. Les is thrilled to be coaching. Same with John. But we are even more thrilled to have them with us. Really, it kind of hard for me to believe we still were this lucky. Think about it. A former college president and former NFL head coach coaching in Division III. You can’t make that up.”