Former NFL coach Les Steckel has been associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for nearly a half century and he shared both his experiences as well as the importance of the organization with those gathered Tuesday night for the Lakeway FCA Fundraising banquet at First Baptist Church.
Steckel, who had stints at several college and professional programs, served as president of the FCA until his retirement a few years ago, telling those in attendance “I’m retired now with more emphasis on ‘tired’ than ‘re’”.
He recounted his own experience of growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania and then attending the University of Kansas to play football. “I was this hot-shot running back from Pennsylvania and I went all the way out to Lawrence, Kansas to play. Do you remember a guy named Gale Sayers, the Kansas Comet? Do you remember John Riggins, the Hall of Fame running back for the Washington Redskins? That’s the reason you don’t remember who I am; can you imagine being on a college football team with Gale Sayers and John Riggins?”, Steckel joked.
He served as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings during the 1984 season. “As they say in Minnesota, who was the coach between Bud Grant and Bud Grant?” Steckel said of the one year tenure between Grant’s two stints in Minneapolis. Steckel, a retired Marine, took time to recognize all the veterans in attendance and stated “I always say we should stand for the flag and kneel to the cross.”
Steckel’s first association with FCA came as a college graduate assistant. When he was at the University of Colorado, he was invited to a camp and while there, one of the speakers in attendance was Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. “There were 700 boys who were sitting there like mannequins, they were listening to every word he said. I will never forget when Roger went over and picked up his bible and turned to me and said ‘Hey Les,’ don’t forget this”, referring to Staubach’s bible. “‘This book is diametrically opposed to what the world says we are to do.’ Why do I remember that since 1972? Because it was Roger Staubach, an athlete who told me that this book is powerful and you should get into it.”
FCA has been fortunate in that unlike other campus ministries, they have been able to maintain a presence at elementary, middle and high schools as well as colleges and universities for decades. The main reason is a demand by coaches and student-athletes who ask for the ministry to be present on their campuses.
“It’s exciting to be a part of this ministry, which is invited on campus,” Steckel said. As the president of the world’s largest sport ministry, Steckel had the opportunity to travel across the nation and indeed, across the world. “If you could see what I have seen and hear what my wife has heard after traveling from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, from Los Angeles to Boston, from Fargo to Corpus Christie, from Harlem to Honolulu, here is what we hear; we want FCA in our community, we want FCA in our schools.”
“Why has God kept FCA around for all these years? Because it’s making a difference, there is no doubt about that,” Steckel said. “We are truly invading the world of sports and influencing more coaches and athletes. Young people today are looking for meaning and purpose and guidance and direction in life.”
Steckel was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans when they made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2000 where they lost a narrow 23-16 decisions to the St. Louis Rams. Steckel recounted how his experience with the team was similar to the people he has worked with in FCA. “When I was with the Titans, I asked our players three questions: who are we, where are we going and how are we going to get there. The same is true with the FCA. I get asked all the time what it’s like to coach in the NFL with giant egos and lots of money. I always ask right back ‘do you go to work every day with 53 people who love what they do, are good at what they do, who work hard at what they do and every day try to get better?’ I got to work with people who did the very same thing at FCA.”
Steckel’s professional career ended in 2003 when he coached the running backs for the Buffalo Bills. Two years later, he started his tenure as the FCA president. He said he has had opportunities to return to the coaching fraternity but declined. He was offered $1.8 million to be an offensive coordinator for an NFL team while he was serving as the president of the FCA but turned down the opportunity to return to the professional ranks. “I was offered millions of dollars to do what I loved to do. I hear from other coaches that I could still get back into the League. But I tell them they are in the winning and losing business on Sundays but I have been in the life and death business for almost 15 years,” referring to his work with an organization that deals in spiritual matters for athletes and coaches around the world.
For more information on the Lakeway Fellowship of Christian Athletes, contact area director Marty Blakely at email@example.com or at 615-476-4768.