Terrell Lester Column
He says he’s Todd Steidley. But he sure looks out of place.
Behind a desk. Tie. Starched shirt. Soft-spoken.
This picture is out of focus. The words are out of sync.
Todd Steidley, the real Todd Steidley, doesn’t sit at a desk. He sits on a bench. Or a folding chair.
Actually, he would be standing. Kneeling. Pacing.
This Todd Steidley looks like the cover of GQ.
The real Todd Steidley sweats. Wears polo shirts. Shouts.
This Todd Steidley looks like an executive. An administrator.
The real Todd Steidley is a coach.
But finally, the handshake gives away this Todd Steidley.
So does the straight-ahead, no-nonsense demeanor.
His grip is vise-like. Firmer than firm. Wrestler firm.
His eyes are fixed and penetrating. His words are measured and tempered.
This is Todd Steidley, the real Todd Steidley.
This is Todd Steidley, champion wrestler, extraordinary coach.
But also, he has become Todd Steidley, administrator, Claremore High School principal.
It is not the first time he has altered his image. Or changed his direction.
He has made life transitions before. Major transitions. Improbable transitions.
He transformed himself from underachiever to gold medal winner.
He transformed himself from overweight cowboy to 142-pound national champion wrestler.
Now, he has transformed himself from coach to administrator.
Steidley was hired in August to launch a new career as a high school principal.
He gave up a two-decade high school and college coaching career that had made him a legend.
Steidley won seven state championships in eight years at Ponca City.
He won five state championships in five years at Bristow.
He coached one year at Clemson University.
He coached two years at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Now, he’s coaching a different team. In a different arena.
“The challenge to me is, I want to show the community, I want to show the teachers, I want to show the state and the nation, that coaches are good administrators,” Steidley said the other day.
“My goal is to make Claremore not the best school in Rogers County, but the best school in Oklahoma. And I want to be a Blue Ribbon school, which is one of the top schools in the nation.
“I want us to be the leaders in education, and I want to achieve similar accomplishments in education that I have in coaching,” he said.
“I just want people to see that dumb jocks can excel academically, and can be educational leaders, as well.”
Steidley speaks slowly, surely, confidently.
There is a passion in his voice, if not his delivery.
He knows what it takes to be successful.
He knows how it feels to fail.
His failures shaped his successes.
Steidley was born in Claremore and reared in a succession of area towns and cities.
He learned to wrestle as a youngster in Oologah and discovered a sport that would become his livelihood and his lifeblood.
“Coaches always took me under their wings,” he said. “I always respected coaches.
“I wanted to have the positive impact on people’s lives like they’ve had on mine.
“There’s no telling where I’d be right now if it wasn’t for coaches.”
He took their teachings and their guidance to heart, and by the time he was a freshman at Union High School in Tulsa, Todd Steidley had captured a state championship on the wrestling mat.
He had visions of winning another. And another. He had visions of becoming a four-time state champion.
It didn’t happen. He was injured one year. He finished third another. He finished runner-up as a senior.
He had a top-shelf high school career. By most standards.
But he was unfulfilled. He considered himself an underachiever.
He accepted a scholarship in 1983 to wrestle at Utah State. Far from home, he competed for two years and won a Pac-10 Conference championship as a sophomore, qualifying for the NCAA national tournament.
He did not win a national title, and his disappointment, coupled with his homesickness, sent him back to Oklahoma.
He was disillusioned. He was burned out on his sport. He was tired.
He took a year off. Enrolled at Rogers State College. Played cowboy. Gained weight. Fished.
The following spring, UCO coach David James made the same recruiting pitch for Steidley he had made two years earlier.
Steidley, weighing nearly 180 pounds, accepted the offer.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Steidley said. “It was the right place for me at the right time.
“I felt like at Utah State, I underachieved.”
But in the year away from wrestling, Steidley sharpened his focus on life.
“I just had to get over that hump, and coach James really helped me a lot,” he said.
He rededicated himself to his sport. And to himself.
“I didn’t want to be one of those guys who didn’t make it,” he said. “I felt like I had underachieved, and I just really felt like I had the tools to be a national champion.
“I just really don’t think I would have been content until I obtained that goal.”
He dropped the excess weight. Reached 142 pounds, and in his first season at the University of Central Oklahoma, Todd Steidley established a school record for wins in a season, and climaxed the year with a national championship.
His days of underachieving were over.
He had achieved the ultimate.
But it had taken a while. He had to sink to what he considered the bottom before he could start the climb to the top.
“It really woke me up,” he said. “I think it was good for me. It pushed me. There were times when I could’ve quit. For me, that was great motivation.
“I think that year off really helped me reflect and see what I’d done and where I’d been. I think one day I just woke up and I really felt like it was time to get your stuff together and get on with it.
“It has made me a better person. Adversity builds character. That’s what they say, and I believe that.”
Although Steidley did not repeat as a national champion, neither did he repeat his earlier indictments of himself on underachieving.
His success that year boosted his self-esteem. Pointed him toward graduation. Toward adulthood.
He launched his coaching career at UCO upon graduation. He joined head coach Eddie Griffin, now the athletic director at Northeastern State, as a wrestling assistant at Clemson.
After one year there, he returned to Oklahoma, suffering once more from homesickness, and took the head wrestling job at Enid High School.
One year later, he was off to Bristow and success would meet him there.
He based much of his coaching doctrine on his youth and his own shortcomings.
“I felt like I had underachieved because I was trying not to lose, instead of trying to win,” he said.
“In wrestling, that is the worst thing you can do, is to become too defensive, and try not to lose.
“It helped me as a coach, because I’d see kids that were trying not to lose. We kind of developed that philosophy in our coaching: open up, be aggressive, wrestle wide open.
“I would like to think our teams had that mentality. They were not afraid to lose.
“If you do your best, that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I felt like since I’d won state as a freshman, and not winning again, that doing my best wasn’t good enough. I needed to be a four-time state champion. I really think when I got hurt and realized I wasn’t going to be a four-time state champion, I think I kind of lowered my expectations, and my self-esteem, and my confidence.”
Through the difficult times, Steidley emerged as a champion, as a leader.
“Things aren’t always going to be rosey,” he said. “You’re not always going to get your way every step of the way. You’ve got to learn to adjust, deal with it, and go on with your life.”
His life has transcended the sport of wrestling.
It has led him to Claremore as an administrator.
Will he miss the coaching?
He already misses it. But he can cope, he says. He will coach his son’s youth wrestling program. He will become a spectator of other sports. He will spend more time with his family.
And he will be available to offer counsel and insight. On life. On success. On failure. On bouncing back.
He will talk, with confidence, about dealing with a lack of confidence.
Claremore wrestling coach Brian Young already has taken advantage of Steidley’s knowledge.
“It will be a huge benefit having coach Steidley here in Claremore,” Young said.
“He is a man that knows how to promote success and win. I think that will show in his leadership at the high school, academically and athletically.”
And that is the real Todd Steidley.