Herald File Photo by Brittney Lohmiller
Southridge assistant football coach Steve Winkler has been known to get the Raiders going with his fiery, and sometimes witty, speeches — whether they be pregame, at halftime or following a big victory. Winkler, 66, has worked on the Raiders football staff for 41 years and it’s hard for many to picture the Raider program without him on the sidelines.
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
Before Southridge senior defensive end Logan Seger even stepped onto Raider Field for his first ever summer football practice four years ago, he had heard legends and stories about longtime assistant coach Steve Winkler.
Seger’s first thought arriving to practice? Don’t mess up.
“As I showed up to my first practice I was just thinking ‘Okay Logan, just don’t get your name called by Coach Winkler’. Because if he calls your name out as a freshman, you’ve obviously done something wrong,” Seger said with a laugh.
But while he may have been nervous at the very first practice, as Seger grew to work more and more with the Raider defensive coordinator and linebacker coach he realized just how lucky he was to be able to learn under someone such as Winkler.
“Honestly, it’s really been an honor,” Seger said. “I mean, it’s crazy because you know he’s been here since the first shovel was dug on this field so you can’t really tell him any different because what he says goes. I’ve spent plenty of hours with him and he’s been my favorite coach these past four years — he’s just phenomenal.”
Winkler, 66, has had many different roles throughout his 41-year tenure with the Southridge football program. He’s spent time as a head coach (1987-1990), offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, running back coach, wide receiver coach, defensive end coach and is currently the defensive coordinator as well as the linebacker and offensive line coach. Winkler also currently works as an assistant on the girls basketball team and the boys golf team.
So what keeps Winkler coming around after all these years? It starts with the support right at home.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have good family support and it’s never been an issue even with all of the hours it takes — I mean, it’s a good gig,” Winkler said. “My wife has been all over the state watching Raider football and all the other Raider sports and she’s just been very involved and very supportive. As long as you can work without any problems and you enjoy it, then keep doing it for as long as you can.”
While support from his family is one of the primary reasons why Winkler has continued to work as an assistant on the Southridge football coaching staff, the support from the community and school as a whole is another reason that’s made everything worthwhile.
The backing and support from the athletic department is something that Winkler says you don’t see very often and it’s something that’s helped the Southridge football team enjoy a tradition of success.
“Just a few weeks ago, I went up to somebody and I told them to buy us a new (blocking) sled and within a few weeks we got a new blocking sled,” Winkler said. “When you don’t have to fight with people all the time and the whole athletic department supports it, things like that keep me going.”
Before Southridge head coach Scott Buening even took the job with the Raiders in 2013, he had talked to coaches around the state about the job and one of the first things they mentioned was Winkler.
Buening believes that having someone that has been with the program for 40+ years helps to bring a sense of stability to the team — especially after the Raiders had changed head coaches for about every six to eight years before Buening took the helm. But no matter who was the head coach, Winkler would still be there on the sideline.
“I think a lot of stability starts right there,” Buening said. “I didn’t even really know him (before coming to Southridge) but it was pretty important to me that he’d still be here and continue to be a part of the program. Even though he’s been coaching for longer than I’m alive, I tend to remind him of that quite often, he’s not the old guy just riding out his time by any stretch of the imagination — he works very hard, he’s passionate about defense and he just loves what he does.”
But something that Winkler has become sort of known for isn’t something that he does during the games or during practices but instead it’s his postgame speeches — especially following key victories.
When thinking about some of the ones Winkler had during last year’s postseason run, Buening can’t help but chuckle.
“He’s always got something interesting to say, I’ll just put it that way,” Buening said with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s fiery, sometimes it’s witty and in some respects it may even be a little controversial — he doesn’t hold his tongue (laughs).”
How does Winkler come up with what he’s going to say in those postgame chats with the team?
“Something might come to my mind during a game that I want to mention or I might come up with an idea but usually while someone else is talking I’ll kind of think of things to say,” Winkler said. “Whether words make a difference or not, who knows — but that’s all we can do.”
Judging from the reactions the team has listening to Winkler’s postgame speeches, it seem safe to say they certainly have made a difference to the young athletes on the Southridge football team.
And if the Raiders are victorious in this Friday’s sectional championship game against Evansville Mater Dei at Raider Field, well, just expect Winkler to have yet another legendary speech that the players will remember for a long, long time.
“I can’t even begin to explain or think about what he might say,” said Seger with a laugh. “You never really know what’s in that brain of his, it could be anything.”
It’s no doubt that Winkler is already a living legend around Raider Field with the success he’s had leading so many different position groups over the years and teaching young players the way of the game.
The impact that Winkler has made for the Raiders shows every week but Buening put it best: “I just can’t imagine — I don’t think anyone can imagine — Raider football without thinking or mentioning Steve Winkler.”