Sometimes football coaches get that administrative degree, move up the ladder and seem to forget that they were a football coach.
For AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese, he never forgot where he came from.
Savarese had announced his intention to retire this summer. His shoes will not be easy to fill. He led the AHSAA through some of the most trying and difficult days of its long history. But throughout, he never forgot his beginnings as a football coach and worked together with everyone to keep the great tradition of high school football strong in the state of Alabama.
“It’s now time for me to devote my time to my family,” he said. “I’ve had an awesome time, teaching, coaching, serving as an administrator, and most humbly serving as the Executive Director of the AHSAA. To follow icons such as Cliff Harper, Bubba Scott, and Dan Washburn has been the greatest honor of my life. Professionally, I would not change anything regarding my career. I genuinely feel as if I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve tried to approach each day knowing that nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without enthusiasm. God has truly blessed me.”
Savarese has been a national leader for high school athletics and led the football crusade during the concussion days a decade ago when outsiders threatened the future of the sport. He made Alabama one of the first states to initiate practice and concussion protocals with the help of the AHSAA medical board. He consulted with the leaders of the ALFCA and listened to what they had to say. Those rules calmed the criticism of the game, yet kept much of the truly important aspects of practice that the state's coaches were afraid they might lose. Other states followed Alabama's lead and adopted very similar rules. Savarese has always been concerned about the liability of schools and coaches and worked to require more educational courses to help should coaches become involved in a legal situation.
During the first days of his 15 year tenure, Coach Savarese worked to make the Super 6 a better event for the state's players and coaches. He straightened out some of the financial issues that had limited the money of the schools and the AHSAA stemming from the finals in Birmingham. He moved the games to Tuscaloosa and Auburn and even have them returning on a rotating basis to Birmingham next fall. With the addition of another class, the event became the Super 7. At one time, the AHSAA through his leadership looked at playing in neutral venues for the semi finals as well.
Coach Savarese has been a leader in national issues. Alabama was the first state to implement instant replay for the regular season and championships. Now a number of other states are following Alabama’s lead and incorporating instant replay for its member schools. He has been a leader in promoting the NFHS Network which is allowing more and more streaming of AHSAA football games. His commitment to keep Alabama at the head of the game in football throughout the nation has never wavered.
His leadership through the Covid 19 crisis last summer and fall was unprecedented. Savarese declared late last spring that Alabama would play football in the fall and instituted protocals and best practices to keep our athletes safe and our teams playing. He did this with great criticism, but as usual, he listened to the coaches and kept the players at the forefront of every decision. Chances are without Savarese, there would have been a much more limited season in 2020, if any season at all
Before he became director of the AHSAA, Savarese spent 33 years as a teacher, coach and athletic director. His first job was at Douglas High School in Kansas where he won a state championship in 1978. He then returned to Birmingham, where he had graduated from Leeds High School before attending college in Kansas.. He coached at Ensley for three seasons before accepting the job at Benjamin Russell in 1985. In 1996 he took the job at Daphne High School. He led the Trojans to the state finals three years in a row, winning the championship in 2001. In 2004 he became the head coach at McGill Toolen and led them to a 25-11 record. His overall career mark stood at 287-84 and he left coaching as one of the state's greatest football coaches.
His relationship with the ALFCA has always been first class. He attended the first organizational meeting in 2005 and has worked with ALFCA director Jack Wood on many projects that have been beneficial to coaches and football in our state. He always meets with the ALFCA board before our convention in January and the AHSAA Summer Conference in July. He kept everyone up with the latest football issues and always listened and answered the questions of the board with an openness that is reserved for family and your closest friends. That is who football coaches were to Steve Savarese.
Thanks Coach for a job well done and for keeping football strong in the state of Alabama.