The man who brought football to Shenendehowa High School and created a dynasty is stepping down.
Brent Steuerwald, the winningest coach in Section II football history and the third most successfull all-time in New York state, announced Thursday that this season will be his last at the helm of the Plainsmen.
“There’s no good time to say this is the end, but it’s inevitable,” Steuerwald, 76, said at a press conference in the high school library.
Steuerwald will coach his 44th Shenendehowa team this season, and be teaching high schoolers the game of football for the 54th year. He served as an assistant at Olean and Glens Falls from 1957-66, and did not coach in 1967, the year before he started up the Shenendehowa program.
“We want to win games anyway, but now that it’s official, that this is his last year, we want to do something big,” said Shenendehowa senior Tony Fusco, one of the key holdovers from last year’s team that lost to Troy in the Section II Class AA championship game. “We want to have a great season for him.”
The Plainsmen have had many of them under Steuerwald’s direction. Fifteen of his teams have won nine games or more, including those in 1982, 1983 and 1984 that were ranked No. 1 in the state at season’s end.
“Each decade, we’ve had a run of three, four, five years of outstanding performances by the coaches and the kids,” said Steuerwald, a graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and Notre Dame University. “I believe the strength of the program will continue.”
Steuerwald’s first team went undefeated — winning three varsity games and three against junior varsity opponents — and seven more teams also had unbeaten seasons as part of his 307-90-4 record.
Only five Shenendehowa teams have lost more games than they won, including the 2-6 squad in 1969. The Plainsmen went 4-4 in 1970 before rolling to a 140-16-3 record over the next 17 seasons, when the Power-I offense and stingy defense became Steuerwald trademarks.
“I can’t imagine life on the other side of the wall. Life without him is going to be strange,” said Mark McQuade, a longtime varsity assistant at Shenendehowa. “He’s been a rock.”
“It’s going to be a challenge for the next coach. You don’t replace Brent,” said Shenendehowa athletic director Gene Culnan. “People like Brent come around once in a lifetime.”
The Shenendehowa and Capital Region Hall of Famer received one of the greatest honors of his career in January in Dallas, when he was presented with the Power of Influence Award from the American Football Coaches Association and the American Football Coaches Foundation in recognition of his great impact on his teams, players and the Clifton Park community.
Steuerwald was selected the National Coach of the Year in 1995 by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association, and five times has been tabbed the New York State Coach of the Year.
“The impact he has on people can’t be measured in wins and losses. Three hundred wins is way down the list of things he’s done at Shenendehowa,” said Culnan. “It’s the influence and impact he has on people as a role model with the way he carries himself and the things he says and lives by.”
“Three words come to mind when I think of Brent, and I put them in order of priority. Gentleman, scholar and coach,” Shenendehowa superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said of Steuerwald, who retired as the school’s athletic director in 1997 after three decades in that position.
“He’s been a role model for our student-athletes. He’s brought tremendous wisdom to our school community, and as a coach, he’s truely a living legend. An icon who we, quite frankly, cannot replace.”
Fourteen of Steuerwald’s teams have reached Section II championship games, and 10 of them
prevailed in a tournament he helped create in 1978. He also had a hand in the formation of the state football tournament in 1988. His 1995 and 2002 teams both reached state championship games.
“It is my last season at Shenendehowa,” said Steuerwald, who served as president of the Capital District Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame from for 22 years starting in 1987. “I hope there are a lot of football issues I will still be involved in. I’m not good at doing nothing.”
Steuerwald was inducted into the Shenendehowa Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year the school’s renovated football complex was named after him, and the same year he notched career victory No. 300 against his alma mater.
“We had the 300 wins, the hall of fame and the new stadium all in the same year. I don’t think we had a horrible year, but it wasn’t what we wanted,” said McQuade. “Our intent is to go all out and leave no stone unturned so we can make this as positive an experience as possible for Brent. We want to go out with a bang.”
Steuerwald said he plans to continue to speak at coaching clinics and write articles (he’s had several published recently in American Football Monthly), and may even write a book when he steps away from the sidelines.
“My focus right now is on one thing, and that’s working hard every day for my team. I want what best for them,” said Steuerwald. “I never wanted to give less than my total effort to this.”