From his high school days at North Little Rock, Steve Daniels has played and served under coaches who were more than a little intimidating.
Daniels, a former offensive coordinator at North Little Rock and Conway High, took folks down a trip through memory lane at Monday’s Arkansas Sports Club luncheon.
He played at North Little Rock under Conway’s Henry Hawk, whom he described as a perfectionist.
“My claim to fame was I never fumbled a snap,” said Daniels, a former quarterback. “My job was to get the snap, hand off to one of our running backs and get out of the way.”
He remember dashing scoring on a 20-yard option run against Helena. “I was swelling with pride. Then, Hawk came over to me, put his arms around men and said ‘You should hit that hole a little quicker. That first step was a little slow.’ I could not have run any faster.”
His college career in baseball at Arkansas Tech and the University of Central Arkansas was cut short after a injury after a car wreck. “But I always wanted to coach and be around young people,” he said.
He noted that his transcript from UCA will showed that he failed coach Eldon Hawley’s football coaching class.
Kevin Danaher at North Little Rock had asked him to help coach a junior high team that year and he had a part-time job as a custodian.
“I needed to drop the class, but I was so afraid of coach Hawley that I didn’t want to go tell him I was dropping the class. I knew he was going to tell me that if you want to be a coach, why are you dropping this class? So my transcript in the football coaching class at UCA shows ‘WF (withdrew failing).’”
His mother has worked at North Little Rock Schools for 50 years, many as the personal secretary to former principal Raymond Bright, who also could be intimidating.
“She worked in the outer office, and he called her in one day that he wanted her as his personal secretary,” Daniels said. “She wanted to think about it and Raymond told her, ‘I’m not asking you; I’m telling you to be my secretary.’
“She started crying. Raymond Burnett then told her, ‘Now, when you get through crying, you’re going to take this job whether you like it or not, so you might as well stop crying and get to work.’”
“I remember one time that we had a fire drill at North Little Rock and Raymond thought we had been too slow,” Daniels said. “There was a buzz or static over the school intercom, then you could hear breathing. Then, it was the first time I ever heard a principal cuss out the whole school over the intercom. He said we were going to have a second fire drill and when it happened, people — teachers and students — alike were running at full speed out the building.”
He developed a friendship and went into private business for awhile with former Razorback and Chicago Bears star Dan Hampton. Once, Hampton got he and his wife, Cheryl, tickets to a Chicago Bears game at Soldier field and provided him with Bears warmup gear and invited him to watch along the sideline.
Daniels crept closer and closer to the sideline in order to hear the coaches call plays. He happened to eavesdrop on a heated moment when Bears’ coach Mike Ditka was chewing out his players and offensive coaches.
“He’s really chewing them out when he sees me over the shoulder pads and suddenly wanted to know ‘who this guy is.’ I could suddenly see myself on the Jumbotron with Mike Ditka’s hands on my throat, so I told Dan Hampton I was going to go in the stands and sit with my wife the rest of the game.”
He came to Conway in 1991 to be Kenny Smith’s offensive coordinator. He says he never regretted it although Smith could also be intimidating.
“He had some of the best pregame and halftime speeches I’ve ever heard,” Daniels said. But once, we were playing Morrilton and had a terrible first half and were trailing. He had the team take off their jerseys at halftime because he told them they were not playing worthy enough to wear a Conway jersey. The players were going to come out the second half in their practice jerseys. Then, he went over to a big box of shoulder pads and kicked it and his foot got stuck in the box.
“The players just put their jerseys back on and went out and played. Kenny was good about scaring you.”
He succeeded Buzz Bolding as athletic director four years ago.
“I thought an athletic director showed up at school, drank coffee, counted the money and went home,” said Daniels, who is in the middle of preparing the school to host the 7A state basketball tournament. “I had know idea how hard coach Bolding worked. Until you walk a mile in those shoes, you don’t see how deceiving and involved that job is. It has been an eye-opener to see what Buzz went through for years.”
His wife, Cheryl, is a sister to former Arkansas State coach John Thompson.
“She’s the best wife in the world,” he said. “She’s been around coaching her whole life and knows what the life is like. She knows about having patience.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)