|Coach Luke Steege speaks with players during a football game this past season. Steege resigned from Camp Verde after 14-years, to take a coaching position in Iowa, his home state. VVN/Sean Morris|
Long-time teacher and head coach for the Camp Verde football team, Luke Steege, has resigned from his post for a "bitter sweet" homecoming.
Steege, a Prescott Valley resident who joined the Camp Verde High School staff 14 years ago, will be moving to his home state of Iowa, where his family lives, and taking the head coaching job at Postville High School.
"I've been in Arizona for 20 years, I have my life here in Arizona, so it's kind of a homecoming, if you will, it's going to be fun. But like I said, it's going to be bitter sweet," Steege said.
Camp Verde gave the social studies teacher his first opportunity to be a head coach and what followed was the establishment of, as Principal Bob Weir put it, "a winning attitude to our football program and just a good work ethic," a legacy that he hopes will carry on.
That winning attitude that Steege instilled on the program led to some of his proudest moments as head coach of the Cowboys; the team's multiple appearances in the state playoffs and Camp Verde's victory over cross-valley rivals Mingus Union, the first in school history.
"It was my first head coaching job, and to be honest, this was an extremely hard decision for me," Steege said. "You're at a place 14 years, you're pretty established and I felt pretty comfortable in my job, they gave me the opportunity to coach, but what I'm kind of proud about leaving is that... in 14 years we went to the playoffs eight times, including a stretch where we went seven consecutive years to the AIA state playoffs, and we beat Mingus Union for the first time in school history (during the 2011-2012 season)."
While being close to his family was an important part of his decision, one factor that Steege said was always hard to deal with was the lack of support from other programs at Camp Verde for the football team.
"You don't always get the kids out for football that you need for football, so that's been a frustration, but I haven't really let that get to me too much, but after 14 years of fighting with that, I was like, 'okay, here's an opportunity for me to go to a school that doesn't have fall soccer, and is kind of a football school,' and when the opportunity came up and I applied for the job and they offered it to me, it was really hard for me to say no for that position," Steege said.
Through the process of looking and applying for a new job, Steege kept Weir, and athletic director Mark Showers, apprised of everything that was going on so there would not be any surprises and the school would be able to quickly find a new coach.
"He's kept me up-to date all the way through," Showers said. "That's the one thing I can count on with coach Steege, he made sure I was in the loop anytime that he was interviewing or anything was going on, he's always been really upfront with me."
Keeping Showers and Weir up-to-date about everything that was going on was important to Steege, who did not want to up-and-leave with little notice, so the school had plenty of time to bring in someone new.
"I didn't want to leave the kids at Camp Verde, or the school, in a bad situation," Steege said. "I wanted them to have plenty of time to make sure they can fill the position with a good candidate, both the teaching position and the coaching position, so I thought it was very important they were kept in the loop. I don't like springing things on people and I think its professional to inform them of what's going on, and I respect Mark so much that I told him I'll let him know, step-by-step, what's happening."
The respect the former Cowboys head coach has for the athletic director was one of the reasons that he was at Camp Verde for so long, as well as the support he received from him.
"Mark has always been supportive, I want to make that perfectly clear, that Mark is outstanding," Steege said. "He's the one that has kind of kept me there as long as I've been there, because he's so supportive."
Showers has backed Steege the entire time, knowing how important family is, and the decision to be closer to his family is the right decision.
"He's got a young family and he's been looking at trying to make sure they're all together, closer together," Showers said. "I'm a supporter and believer of anything that keeps your family together. He's from Iowa, originally, so he's got family back there and it looks like it might be a really good thing for him at this time."
Steege, who he has been working with the football team during spring practices, said that some of the players seemed to be aware of his decision and he tried to be as open and honest with them as possible.
The team took the announcement in stride, and while the student-athletes were disappointed, some asked him to stay one more year, but they understood his decision and were not selfish about it.
"It seems like the kids already knew that, here's an opportunity to do something, and they haven't been selfish about it, they've been really good about it, [acting] like adults about it," Steege said. "Everyday I see someone and they're like, 'I'm really going to miss you next year, but we know you want to go,' so that's the thing too. They've been very supportive of it, but, like I said, they were disappointed."
When the football team returns to the field in the summer and school begins in August, Weir and Showers have both made it known that the former Camp Verde coach and social studies teacher will be missed, for what he brought to the school and the field.
"You get used to a guy after 14-15 years here," Weir said. "Hopefully, the legacy that he's left can be built on, that's what we're hoping for. He started a good tradition and hopefully we can add to it and continue to grow. That's something he wants ... he was a quality teacher, student orientated. The kids liked him and that's key, you get the kids liking you."
Showers added, "Coach Steege has been a solid part of our coaching staff for 14 years. He does a great job with the kids, he's been able to build some important relationships with our kids, which has helped them later in life, and he's going to be missed," Showers said. "He's a passionate man for football and for kids, and he's done a great job for Camp Verde High School. Like I said before, we're going to miss him, but I understand where he's coming from because I think his focus is right on, and that's where it needs to be. I hope things go well and I wish him all the luck in the world."
For Steege, one who is adept at keeping his emotions under wraps on the field, his emotions are starting to get to him as his time at Camp Verde draws to a close.
"It's actually a pretty emotional time for me. I'm pretty good at hiding those emotions, because I'm a football coach, but it's been a pretty emotional ride to be honest."