Luke Steckel’s rise up the coaching ladder has been a decade in the making, but now it’s his life’s work.
In his first season as the Tennessee Titans tight end coach, the 2021 season can be viewed as Steckel’s big break. However, with this new opportunity, he hasn’t changed. He’s still willing to do whatever it takes to help get this team to the next level.
“I feel extremely fortunate to not only be on this coaching staff but to be the tight ends coach,” Steckel said on Monday. “I’ve done my best every day to just do the best job possible with whatever task is given to me.
“To be able to coach tight ends here for the Titans is a dream come true.”
Steckel’s coaching career began in 2009 when the Cleveland Browns brought him in as an assistant to the head coach. At the time, he was living in Los Angeles with relatives working on films like “All About Steve” and “Fast & Furious” as a production assistant.
He’d graduated from Princeton University and was rubbing elbows with some of the world’s most famous movie stars. Some might say he was living the dream. Yet, while on set working for some of the biggest movies in Hollywood, football remained his true calling. You might even say it was in his blood.
His father, Les Steckel, coached in the NFL for 25 years. He got his start in 1978 as the San Francisco 49ers wide receiver coach. Since then, he’s enjoyed notable stints with the Minnesota Vikings as a head coach (1984) and the Tennessee Oilers/Titans (1997-99) as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach and was the play-caller during the 1999 Super Bowl season.
So, it wasn’t a surprise that on Jan. 26, 2009, when former Browns coach Eric Mangini gave Luke a call asking him to join his coaching staff, he didn’t look back. He enjoyed four seasons in Cleveland before moving to Tennessee in 2013.
It can be assumed that the move to Tennessee brought with it a sense of familiarity. Steckel played his high school football right outside of downtown Nashville in Brentwood, Tenn.
While his dad coached on Sundays, Steckel’s Friday nights under the lights were filled with glory. He earned All-Region and All-Midstate honors his senior season, and he was also invited to play in the East-West Shrine All-Star game.
The individual awards were nice, but arguably his crowning moment as a high school football player came when he intercepted a pass with 14 seconds remaining to help Brentwood clinch a TSSAA 5A state championship his senior season.
Steckel associates Tennessee with positive memories. It’s his home. He might not have been born there, but he loves it just the same.
Since joining the Titans in 2013, he’s spent eight seasons at various coaching positions before this season’s promotion. He was everything from the assistant to head coach to assistant wide receiver coach. In the middle of it all, he functioned as an offensive assistant while managing to survive changes at head coach and in the front office.
For a coach’s son and a fresh face in the profession, the opportunity to stay put for an extended period is something he does not take for granted.
“Nashville is home to me. I wasn’t born and raised here, but I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I am not sure Nashville claims me, but I claim Nashville,” Steckel said. “I am extremely grateful. Every day I love going to work. It really is a blessing to be here every day.”
Steckel takes over a tight end group that previously worked under new offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who was promoted when Arthur Smith was named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. With that comes a certain expectation and pressure to make sure the tight ends produce. That is something Steckel aims to make sure of heading into the 2021 NFL season, he said.
“To work for a guy like Todd Downing, who I am extremely close with, we’ve built a really tight relationship over the two years he’s been here. I’ve learned so much from him, even prior to taking on his previous role,” he said. “To work for coach Vrabel and report to coach Downing has been a true blessing. And I am excited to see what we can accomplish this year.”
Steckel could have continued to pursue movies, he chose football. You might even say football chose him.
He now has an opportunity to prove that Vrabel’s trust in him as a coach isn’t ill-founded, as he leads a tight end group that features Anthony Firkser and Geoff Swaim, two players who also will have opportunities this year that they did not in 2020.
Steckel has the right attitude. It’s time to see if the production from the tight end group is there to match his effort.
“I am extremely grateful,” he said. “I’m extremely blessed to work for a guy like coach Vrabel. When he came in and took this job, I had the good fortune of being retained by him. He didn’t know me at all... It means a lot that he recognized all the effort I put forth.”