Insert any clever tie to the name Steele and its relevance to the metallic alloy of iron, and it fits. Jeff Steele is true to the definition of “steel” — a hard, strong, alloy of iron with carbon and usually other elements, used extensively as a structural and fabricating material.
While the Lumpkin County Indians basketball coach, who recently announced his retirement after decades in the business, has always been known to coach up players to be strong like steel and have nerves of steel, etc. The reality is that the legendary coach helps create that structural bond that makes up any great program.
Steele is leaving Lumpkin after 5 seasons at the helm of the basketball program. In that time, the Indians have chalked up 53 victories and made 3 state playoff runs. That includes the historic 20-11 season back in ’15-16 that saw Lumpkin reach the Sweet 16 and garner a #3-state ranking during the season.
Steele’s resume includes over 320 wins across his only two stops – Johnson and Lumpkin. He has pocketed 4 region titles (’05, ’13-15), 5 Sweet 16 runs (’05, ’10, ’14-16), and an Elite 8 (’15). His teams went to the playoffs 14 times. His accomplishments include winning Coach of the Year in ’05 and ’14, being named the North Georgia All-Star Coach in ’14 and ’15, and winning a pair of Lanierland Championships (’13-14) and a pair of Battle of the States championships (’15-16). However, none of those things are as important to him as his players.
“I will miss the relationships that I built with the players,” says Steele. “To this day, I have awesome relationships with many of my former players. It truly is like one big family. The other thing I will miss is competing. I love competition. Lumpkin is special because of the closeness of the community and how they support.”
While it will be a bit odd going to a Lumpkin basketball game and not seeing Steele on the sideline, you won’t have to wonder where he is.
“Family time,” Steele says on what’s next for him. “I love to play golf and will really get back into that. Traveling will also be something that [wife] Donna and I will explore.”
The decision to retire from coaching was something Steele spent time on coming to, but the heart of it all is family.
“There were several factors that prompted me to retire,” says Steele. “One factor was spending more time with my family. My wife and I were talking and I concluded that I hadn’t had a Christmas without basketball in 50 years going back to my childhood. That really made me think about things. Also I have two grandchildren that I want to spend time with. And thirdly, honestly I was just tired and ready for a new chapter.”
On looking back over his storied career, Steele fondly looks back to one of his favorite moments.
“Man, that’s a loaded question,” says Steele on what that favorite moment is. “There are so many moments that stand out. One that was really special was when I was at Johnson and we beat Gainesville in the Lanierland final. There was so much hype going into that game. Also we were a huge underdog as well. The speech that my wife Donna gave before the game was so special it had us all crying. She referenced the Seabiscuit movie which was essentially about the underdog role. That same season we ended up being 30-1. Great memories for sure.”
While there have been many great moments, perhaps one a bit harder to endure was telling the Lumpkin boys this season that he was stepping down as head coach. While many were impacted by his decision, they weren’t completely caught unawares.
“When I told the team, I think they were a little shocked but at the same time I kinda think they knew,” says Steele. “I gradually started to allow my assistants to have more responsibilities. Obviously some players were more affected than others and showed more emotion. Honestly I had mixed emotions. A big part of my life was ending, but a new chapter was beginning.”
As Steele will now close that chapter, there is still much of his book to be written. Still, if he could pen any note to his former players and those to come, he already has that message ready to share:
“My message would be to stay on the grind and try and have no regrets when their time is done,” says Steele. “To the families, I want to thank them for the support of their children and our program. Lumpkin is a very special place to me and has been for many years and reasons.”
Prior to the 2019-20 season, Steele was named among BLITZ’s Legendary Coaches, earning his distinction with his years of dedication and success in the game of basketball.