The only coach the Shenendehowa football team has known will step down following this season.
Brent Steuerwald ended weeks of speculation Thursday when he announced that he will retire at the end of his 44th season at the helm.
"There is no good time to say this is the end, but it is inevitable," said Steuerwald during a press conference at Shenendehowa High School East. "And I often said I would want to leave this program at a very strong point."
"It will be very hard to replace Brent Steuerwald," said Shen Athletic Director Chris Culnan.
Steuerwald told his coaching staff about his decision prior to the start of training camp, but he waited until just before Thursday's press conference to tell his players that this would be his final season.
"We were a little shocked, but we knew it was going to come eventually," said senior quarterback Ted VanGalen.
"We knew it was probably in the works for maybe 10 months or even maybe a year ago," said long-time assistant coach Mark McQuade. "There was speculation that this would be his final year, but we didn't know for sure until he told us."
Steuerwald -- who owns a 307-84-4 career record -- said that the decision was not one that suddenly came to him.
"It wasn't a revelation," he said. "It was a long process where I felt that there would be a limit to what I could do."
Shen has been the pre-eminent large school football program under Steuerwald. The Plainsmen have won 12 Section II championships and 24 league titles since he began the varsity program in 1968.
"I've often said that if our kids consistently strive for excellence in performance, then the wins will come," said Steuerwald.
But, Steuerwald said it's been the rare losing seasons that have been among some of his most memorable years.
"I've had 3-6 seasons, 4-5 seasons and even 5-4 seasons, and I'd say those seasons were more rewarding because of the progress the kids made during the season," said Steurwald.
On paper, Shen would not appear to be headed for a losing season in 2011. The Plainsmen return several key players from a squad that reached last year's Section II Class AA Super Bowl, where they lost to eventual state runners-up Troy. And with Troy moving to Class A this season, the door to the Class AA championship is wide open for Shen to march through.
"We want to go out with a bang with him," said McQuade.
Still, Steuerwald's announcement means that there will be some possible distractions that he and his team must deal with -- primarily, all of the tributes that Shen's opponents will lavish upon Steuerwald as the team makes its way through the regular season.
"I think I'd better be prepared," said Steuerwald. "The one thing I have to do is make certain that my kids are ready to play every game and to enjoy the experience."
Culnan said the school will pay its tribute to Steuerwald during the final regular season home game Oct. 7 against Steuerwald's high school alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy. And Shen Superintendent Dr. Oliver Robinson added that the timing of the final regular season home game should allow many of Steuerwald's former players to attend the festivities.
"We're going to have the [Shen] Hall of Fame dinner the night before, so I think there will be a lot of people still up here on [Oct.] 7th," said Robinson.
Once the 2011 season is over, Steuerwald said he will have to find something else to do with himself. One possibility he said he might explore is writing a book about his experiences coaching and being an athletic director -- a post Steuerwald held at Shen from 1968 through 1996.
"I'm going to call it, 'It's Not Easy Being Green,'" Steuerwald said, which elicited a laugh from the audience gathered at the press conference.
Ultimately, though, Steuerwald acknowledged that the hardest part will be walking away from the game that he spent 55 years of his life working as a coach.
"Probably that first year will be extremely difficult for me," he said. "I'm horrible at not doing anything, and I'll have to find something else to do."
The Shen football program will face its own challenges in 2012 as a new person takes over for Steuerwald.
"What we want to try to do is the same as at the end of every year," said Culnan. "We'll do an evaluation of the coaching staff. Then, we'll post the job and look both inside and outside the program for a replacement.
"On a personal note, I don't want someone to come in and feel like he has to be another Brent Steuerwald," he added. I would want whoever it is to be his own man."
Steuerwald said he believes that the program that he built will continue to thrive after this season.
"The strength of the program will continue. It's built around a lot of tradition [and] a lot of successful efforts by the kids and coaches," he said.
As for this season, Steuerwald said he's looking forward to what lies ahead for the Plainsmen.
"This year becomes special for me [and] special for the kids," said Steuerwald. "We have a talented group. We're going to give it every effort we can."