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Former Commerce coach embracing life after football

POSTED: August 26, 2011 1:13 a.m.

Steve Savage didn’t think he was any different.

As far as he knew, everyone woke up early on a daily basis, spent between 50 and 70 hours a week at work and got home late, bringing his stressful job home with them.

As the head football coach at Commerce High for the last 22 years, and an assistant for 11 years before that, Savage’s life revolved around the gridiron.

And then he retired.

“I thought everybody did that,” Savage said. “I really didn’t realize there was a life after working that many hours a week. After retiring now, come to find out there’s a lot of people at home every day. A lot of people don’t have to work like that.”

Savage retired after the 2010 season, citing a desire to spend more time at home with his family. His replacement is Marvin Justice, an assistant under Savage for five years. Commerce will begin its first season with a new coach since 1989 Friday night at Jefferson High.

In 22 years as Commerce’s football coach, Savage compiled 182 wins, including a state championship in 2000. He was an assistant on another champion in 1982, and played at the high school from 1969-1972.

As Justice put it, he’s just a “football guy.”

“Coach Savage is 100 percent a football guy,” Justice said. “He’s an old-school coach. There ain’t no doubt about that.”

But football guy or not, Savage was ready for a change.

“People always told me I’d know when I was ready,” he said. “And I did.”

It wasn’t the long hours or the stressful work that made him ready to retire, Savage said. It was the things in between that he didn’t have, rather than those he did.

“I enjoyed work,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed work my whole life. It didn’t bother me to work long days and long weeks. That was never the problem.

“I still did a good job, I think, of raising a family and those things. But there were a lot of things in between that I missed, too.”

Justice said that he can understand Savage’s sentiments.

“Teaching and coaching is a calling,” Justice said, “but it’s difficult. You enjoy it, Friday nights are great, but you miss a lot of things.”

Among those things were spending regular hours with his family or, while he was with them, being able to separate himself from the stress of a football season.

During the season, it wasn’t uncommon for Savage to wake up in the middle of the night and pace the floor. The constant attention that must be devoted to strategy, discipline and the well-being of his players often weighed heavily on his mind.

Since retiring, however, he reports regular sleeping hours, something he hadn’t seen in 22 years.

“I can go to sleep at night and sleep all night long now,” he said. “That’s one big difference. I don’t get up or pace the floor or anything like that.”

His wife, Kim, said that was the biggest difference in her mind.

“The big thing is that he’s just more relaxed and easy-going,” she said. “He’s always been someone who would go out to a movie or out to eat, but now he doesn’t have to worry too much when we do.

“That was always a big thing during the football season. There was a lot of worrying and long nights and all that.”

And while it is nice to get a break from the weight of a football season, that was also one of the main reasons he enjoyed doing it for so long.

“There’s no job worth doing if you don’t have any stress in it,” Savage said.

But now, that stress has given way to more relaxing activities.

He leaves the house at the same time every day. Instead of heading to work, however, his destinations vary between his church, the lake for some fishing or, most common, the golf course.

“He plays a lot of golf,” Kim said.

About four days each week, to be exact.

“I was playing more, but it’s down to about four days now,” Savage said.

And so far, he has no complaints.

Kim, a former principal, also retired in June, allowing the couple freedoms they hadn’t seen in years.

“We’ve got an empty nest as of last Friday,” Kim said. “We kind of looked at each other and said — ‘Wow, we can go somewhere in the daytime if we want to!’”

And as far as football goes, while he still loves to keep up with the game, he’s made a clean split from coaching, and he doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.

“Football — it’s nothing pressing now, to be honest” he said. “I retired on December the 17th, and when I walked out, I didn’t go back. I don’t pry into it or ask about it.

“Things will do just fine without me.”

 



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