Missouri State Athletics Director Kyle Moats said at a press conference on Monday that the university had the money to buy out football coach Dave Steckel when it announced the coach would return back in November.
Steckel had two years left on his contract after finishing a 1-10 season. He was 13-42 in five seasons as the head coach. Instead of parting ways with him then, Moats announced Steckel would be back while telling the News-Leader “we believe we can get it done” with the head coach.
Fast forward to a recent meeting between Moats and Steckel, and the two didn’t see eye-to-eye about the future of the program.
DAVE STECKEL COVERAGE
“That meeting around Thanksgiving was really a follow-up to the season,” Moats said on Monday. “We both left it thinking we needed to make it better. We had our follow-up to that meeting and the more we dove into that, we just both kind of felt like things weren’t parallel in what we were thinking and that’s how we got to this point.”
Missouri State announced on Thursday it agreed to a separation agreement with Steckel and that it is currently looking for its next football coach.
In a press release from the university on Thursday, the athletic director said after the two met after the holidays to discuss football-related matters, it led to the mutual agreement.
Moats expanded on that meeting on Monday.
“We both talked about how the direction of the program was going to go,” Moats said. “It started to separate at that particular time. It never even happened — we never even discussed that. The second meeting, we got more in-depth into more things and that’s what led to this decision.
“As I said — and it was the truth — the factor in the decision wasn’t money. It was the direction of how we wanted to get this thing done. That was the issue.”
Now Missouri State is searching for its next football coach. The football program hasn’t reached the postseason since 1990 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2009.
Missouri State President Clif Smart said at Monday’s press conference that he and Moats would be the only two people in the search committee due to the timing of the search.
Smart added he wants Moats to “hire the best football coach available” and he wants it done in the next two weeks.
What Clif Smart had to say
Smart said he was thinking back to when the university hired Steckel and the excitement around the announcement.
Steckel was a successful defensive coordinator at Mizzou, he knew Missouri and was excited about the opportunity to be a head coach, Smart said.
“I think you look back to that and I don’t know a single person who wasn’t excited about that hire and the potential for Bears football,” Smart said.
Smart then went on to list all of the good things Steckel has done over his five years in Springfield. The list included the best GPA’s, Academic Progress Rate, little player misconduct, fundraising and a clean program.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t win enough football games and that’s the reality of that,” Smart said.
Smart thanked Steckel for taking a chance on MSU while saying he worked hard and cared about the team. He expressed some displeasure on how the program is referred to as an “embarrassment” by some.
The university president said he will be involved in making the selection.
“If you don’t like the selection, I’m to blame. Period,” Smart said. “I’m the CEO of this $380 million organization, so if you don’t like who is selected, I’m the guy who made that decision.”
Smart did not take any questions and left the press conference before Moats made his opening remarks and took questions.
How much will the timing of this decision hurt the next coach?
Since Missouri State didn’t part ways with Steckel after the season, the next football coach is going to have some catching up to do.
December’s early signing period has come and gone. Steckel and his staff signed about 20 players and National Signing Day is on Feb. 5.
Moats said he doesn’t think the lateness of the start will hurt the next coach but he said it would have made more sense to part ways back in November instead of January.
“But we didn’t,” Moats said. “That’s not the conversation we had.”
As for why this decision didn’t happen until January, the athletic director said he is going to have to change some things about his postseason meetings in order to avoid a situation like this happening again.
“That’s the thing that I learned the most is that we probably need to get that buttoned up,” Moats said. “There needs more of a commitment, I guess if you would, but I take part of the blame in that.”
Is the culture as good as Stec said it was?
Steckel’s final words in the quote in the press release announcing his departure included thanking the staff and players for “changing the inner workings of our culture.”
Good “culture” was something Steckel and players have discussed over the last few seasons.
Was it as good as they said it was?
“A lot of things improved,” Moats said. “The winning culture on the scoreboard didn’t.”
Will this change Moats’ approach to contract extensions?
One of the biggest critiques of Moats has been the contract extensions he’s handed out during his time as the Missouri State athletics director.
The two most notable extensions were handed to Steckel and former men’s basketball coach Paul Lusk.
In this case, Moats gave Steckel a contract extension following his second year — a 4-7 season in 2016. Since then, the program has one four games in three seasons.
The 2019 season would have been the last of his initial contract. Instead, the university is paying a buyout through private donations that could add up to a maximum of $340,000 plus moving expenses.
“That was a 4-7 year and we were making progress and we thought we were going in the right direction,” Moats said. “Once you get to that point, you decide if you’re going to go or you’re not going to go and we decided to go.”
Will this change Moats’ approach to extensions in the future?
“Not necessarily,” Moats said. “You have to look at each situation. You can’t just automatically say you’re not going to do it that way. It depends on the situation.”
What the next coach is walking into
Moats said there has been plenty of interest in the job since the university and Steckel parted ways.
Right now, he said, there is one player wavering “on both sides” whether to stick with MSU football or look elsewhere.
Moats spoke highly of what the university has to offer for the next coach — in regards to facilities and academics.
“Someone’s going to have a good situation,” Moats said. “We just have to do a better job at recruiting and winning games.
“Our issue isn’t that we need to get caught up. We need to get ahead in some areas — that’s the challenge that we have. A coach has to know what they’re getting into. Once they know that, that’s when you work with them. We’re in a great conference and I look at that as a positive and not a negative.”
Will ‘Bear Up’ be used going forward?
“Maybe not,” Moats said.
Moats said assistant coaches have until Feb. 29 under their contracts. Whoever is hired will be welcome to interview Steckel’s assistant coaching staff.
Moats said spring football is on pace to begin on time right now. He told the team to approach everything as “business as usual” and to not worry about other things they can’t control.
Moats said he’s working on football and volleyball’s coaching searches right now. “We’re getting closer,” he said regarding volleyball.
Moats said, “(the university) needs to have football.”
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on Twitter where his handle is @WyattWheeler_NL. You can also sign up for his free “Bears Beat” newsletter by subscribing on News-Leader.com.