By Teachers, For Teachers
Congratulations to Steve Specht for being named as the 2012 Team USA coach for the International Bowl against the IFAF World Team!
Cincinnati high school football coach Steve Specht has been with his alma mater St. Xavier for the last 17 years. After a winning season that brought them all the way to the Ohio regionals, Specht still strives to teach his players to become good men.
Coach Specht, considered one of the best all-around coaches in the country, was kind enough to share his insights what makes a good coach and a great teacher.
In the past few years, you’ve experienced the highs of a state championship and the lows of a losing season. Having seen how players react to both, do you think it’s more valuable for players to learn how to lose or learn how to win?
Great question. I think everything has its place in this world including winning and losing. It's obviously easier to learn and grow after wins, but it's a true test of character to be able to pick up and learn from your mistakes when you lose. Unfortunately we learn more from losing than we ever do from winning, but I also know it's important to learn from both.
From 2004 through the 2007 seasons, our teams went 55-3, went to the playoffs 4 straight years and won 2 state titles. You wouldn't think the kids needed to learn a whole lot, but they did...they needed to learn how to maintain a strong sense of humility with each victory. They needed to learn how to be grateful for all of the gifts they had been given and understand that their gift back was to work as hard as they could everyday to be the best they could be. They needed to learn that each day brings a new challenge and each game presented an opportunity to compete to the best of their abilities and, God willing, end up on the winning side of the scoreboard. Mostly they needed to learn that being a champion wasn't about winning football games but more about being the best possible individual they could be every day of their lives.
In 2008 we ended the season 4-6 and missed the playoffs. That year was filled with multiple injuries and numerous situations that required the kids to "dig deep" and find out what kind of character each of them had. The kids learned how to deal with adversity. They had learned how to win with humility and this season taught them how to be gracious in defeat. We grew as a team and were better after week 10 than we were at any other point in the season so I never looked at the season as a failure, and our kids were anything but losers. I told them after the final game that we may not have been on the "right" side of the scoreboard for 6 of the games, but I thought they conducted themselves as champions throughout the season and that what they learned would transcend the game and serve them well in their lives.
What do you want your players to take away from their high school athletic experience?
I believe everything we do in football should be an extension of the classroom.
It's my job as the head football coach to develop a vision that focuses on the development of the individual as it pertains to the team as a whole. When these kids leave St. X football I hope they've learned 3 value based core objectives:
1) Develop Faith;
2) Develop leadership through character;
3) Develop the concept that we are true "Men for Others".
As our mission statement says: St. Xavier football has but one ultimate expectation: BE CHAMPIONS IN EVERY FACET OF LIFE!
You have a long history with St. Xavier as a student, player and coach. Could you ever see yourself teaching/coaching for another high school or college?
Another great question. The answer is simple for me...NO!
I've had opportunities to move on to other coaching positions but when I look at my situation I really believe I have my "dream job."
I love the mission of St. Xavier High School and the people that work within its walls. I love the kids I coach, the administration gives me the support I need to run the program, the parents give us the support we need to develop their sons as quality human beings, the coaching staff gives our kids the support they need to become better players and, more importantly better human beings, and the players give one another the support they need to become a team in every aspect of the word.
Above all, I'm happy, my wife is happy, my kids are happy and I don't think you can ever put a price tag on happiness.
What’s your best St. Xavier football memory?
The best single memory for me will probably be standing on the podium after we won the 2005 state championship and looking at our fans in the stand applauding the kids and the community for the first state title in the school's history. It was a special moment for every member of the long blue line and an experience that will last a lifetime.
Do you think coaching for a private school puts you at an advantage, disadvantage or neither?
Coaching kids is the same no matter where you go. I've been blessed to have spent 3 years coaching in a public school (Lakota High School) and obviously for the past 16 at St. Xavier. The kids aren't different and they all respond to different styles of coaching. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Lakota and loved the players I coached.
Both public and private schools have different advantages and disadvantages depending on the situations which are far too many to even begin addressing on each side. I personally love being at St. Xavier because it's a Jesuit institution that is faith based. Everything we do in the program is faith based and, although you can model a public school program on the same basic vision, the separation of church and state always hangs in the balance. I think I'd have a hard time trying to balance that separation.
Do you enjoy football more as a player or a coach? Why?
Much more as a coach simply because I get to work with kids that are much more athletic than I ever dreamed of being. I don't think I would have started on any of my teams at St. Xavier.
Seriously, I knew I wanted to teach and coach when I was a high school student. I was fortunate to be able to study all of my coaches to help develop and define the type of coach I am today. I loved to compete as a player, but as a coach I get to compete on a different level. Watching a young man learn how to play, develop his game and grow as a man is more rewarding than anything I ever did as an athlete.
How do you balance coaching with teaching?
I don't look at either differently. When I'm teaching English or Oral Communications my classroom has walls. When I'm teaching football, my classroom doesn't have walls. The subject matter for all 3 is different but my approach doesn't change. I grade papers and I grade film. I develop lesson plans and game plans. In my opinion, it's all the same with different ways to evaluate the progress.
High profile coaches are often thought of as coaches first and teachers second (if at all). How would you respond to that judgment?
As my previous answers show, I've always considered myself a teacher in both endeavors. When I interview prospective coaches, I'm looking for good teachers. If you are a good teacher, you'll be a good coach.