Is there a dean of assistant high school coaches in Nashville?
If so, it seems a safe bet that Steve Peden who, at 64, has just started into his 42nd year of coaching at six different Nashville schools, the first 30 in Metro.
Having recovered from two operations over the past two years, Peden, who never has been a head coach, has bounced back and still loves what he’s doing. Early into his 12th season at Father Ryan, which is likely his last stop, he is still going strong, thank you.
He sat down recently in his classroom at Ryan and talked about his lengthy and, for the most part, unheralded career, that started more than four decades ago at old Isaac Litton High.
He has coached offensive and defensive linemen, “and that sometimes includes tight ends, who are just offensive linemen with good hands,’’ he says, laughing.
His career path as coach includes:
• Isaac Litton one year (1970-71)
• Stratford High 15 years (1971-1986)
• Overton High nine years (1986-95)
• McGavock two years (1995-97)
• Maplewood two years (1997-99)
• back to Stratford (1999-2000)
• then Father Ryan since 2000
“In 2000, I had just finished my 30 years of coaching and teaching in Metro, enough time to draw my retirement pay,” he said. “I had planned to return to Stratford but a month before the season, the job as line coach at Ryan opened up, they called me and I’ve been here ever since.”
“… I have always been content to work with linemen, hopefully make them better players. For the most part, I’ve had great kids to work with.”
Great coaches, too.
“I’ve worked with the best of them,” Peden said. “I worked under Jerry Pigue at Stratford for 15 years, Doug Mullican at Overton for two years, Charlie Bozeman at McGavock two years, Richard Campbell at Maplewood two years and of course, coach (Bruce) Lussier at Ryan. Coach Campbell still addresses me as ‘coach.’
“Honestly, I have never worked for a bad head coach. And I’ve never had a bad principal.”
Peden had his longest stay at Stratford under Pigue.
“Jerry took me under his wing right away at Stratford, I’ve always remembered and appreciated that,” he said.
“The main thing about Steve is he really cares about the kids,” Pigue, 73, said. “He was superb at setting up blocking techniques. He took over the O-Line and I didn’t have to worry about that part of it. He also took over our wrestling program.”
• TWO-SPORT STAR: Stephen Landis Peden was born in Pulaski, Tennessee and lived in Wales, a small community in Giles County, just four miles out of Pulaski. He went to Giles County High in Pulaski and played football and basketball — “the only two sports they had,” he said.
He went to then-Lipscomb College where he majored in English and education and finished in 1970.
“I knew I wanted to teach and coach,” he said.
While in college he also met Lois, his wife of 43 years. The couple has a son Brad, 40, who is offensive coordinator at Antioch, and a daughter Brooke (Kalb), who went to school at Overton when Peden was coaching there. The couple has six grandchildren.
Competing against his son in football “is a little uncomfortable, seeing him on the other side of the field,” Peden said. “But at the end of the day, you’re trying to win the game.”
Just out of college, Peden was assigned to Isaac Litton High for his first coaching job. He was on the sidelines with coach Richard Hewitt for what turned out to be the Lions’ last team.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but we found out over the summer they were closing the school,” he said.
He laments the closing of so many high schools over the years, places like Joelton, Goodlettsville, Dupont, Madison, Donelson, Two Rivers, North, Central and Bellevue.
“We’ve really lost a deep sense of community pride,” he says.
• CHASING A TITLE: He’d like a championship ring — at least one.
The closest one of his teams got to a state title came in 1993 when Overton lost to Stratford 13-12 in the AAA state quarterfinals. Ryan got to the Division II semifinals three years ago, but that division doesn’t have nearly as many teams.
“Playing [in DII] is like playing in the SEC — so many great teams,’’ he said.
As for how much longer he will pursue a title, he said, “I really don’t know. If my health holds up, I want to continue as long as I can make a positive contribution.”
Health has been an issue from time to time in his life. Peden had polio when he was one. His left leg below the knee is atrophied and the toes on the foot are paralyzed.
“But I was more fortunate than a lot of people,’’ he said.
In 2010, he underwent emergency gall bladder surgery. Then last year, Peden had open-heart surgery with a valve replacement. He asked his doctors to operate in May so he would be ready in July when fall practice began.
There were no such issues preceding this season.
“When I got the job at Ryan, Steve was someone I could lean on early, have a sounding board, just to make things here at little bit easier to learn the ins and outs,” Lussier, who was formerly the coach at Oak Ridge, said. “He’s extremely knowledgeable, of the offensive/defensive line. He knows the intricacies of blocking and tackling, and he’s kind of old school like myself.
“He’s a huge asset, and we’re fortunate to have him on our staff.’’