By Kyle Quick
Over the course of his 30 years as New Haven’s Head Basketball Coach, Ray Steinhoff has become an icon not only in New Haven, but throughout the state of Missouri due to his success, humility, kindness, and innate ability to teach something special to every player who joined one of his teams.
I sat down with Steinhoff shortly after he announced his retirement, talking about what sparked his interest in coaching from the individual who had the greatest impact on his coaching career to some of his memorable moments.
Love of basketball began in a hay loft.
Growing up on a farm in St. Charles, Mo. Steinhoff was the youngest of seven (5 brothers and one sister) and recalls his love of basketball fostering at a young age in a hay loft where he and his brothers built a basketball court.
“I started out watching my older brothers play… all the neighbor kids would come over… we played three to four nights a week. That’s where I spent all my time and just fell in love with basketball”, Steinhoff said.
Steinhoff’s closet brother in age was six years older than him (Ralph Steinhoff) ended up becoming a basketball coach and ultimately would be the one who first gave Steinhoff the idea of being a coach.
Steinhoff said, “I was able to watch him coach at a young age and thought this coaching deal would be pretty fun… it would be something I knew I would enjoy.”
It’s almost as if Steinhoff was destined to coach at New Haven. In high school Steinhoff was coached by Lee McKinney, who had coached at New Haven for two seasons (1961 and 62’) before eventually coaching at Orchard Farms.
After graduating from high school, Steinhoff attended East Central College where he played basketball for two years.
Already knowing he wanted to coach basketball Steinhoff said, “I was always paying attention… I would come home from my college practices and write down everything we did in practice. Because I already knew I was going to be coach. It’s like I was scouting at my own practices.”
Steinhoff hired at New Haven.
The following two years Steinhoff attended Southeast Missouri State University before graduating in 1980. That same year Steinhoff applied at several schools, receiving offers from New Haven and Winfield High School.
Both schools offered Steinhoff coaching positions for JV basketball and Varsity Baseball, but the deal breaker Steinhoff said, “Winfield also wanted me to coach softball… biggest reason I came to New Haven is I would only be coaching baseball.”
“At the time I didn’t expect to stay at New Haven for more than a year or two and really, only thing that changed that, was marring Ruth”, Steinhoff said.
Following the 1984 school year Steinhoff became the head coach, which at the time he said, “Honestly I didn’t think I was ready for the job but I’ll never forget what Mr. Ragland told me ‘well if you don’t take it now, I’ll never offer it to you again’ and that pretty much forced my hand and thought I better take it.”
One part of Steinhoff’s coaching career that is often overlooked are the 19 years as head baseball coach, winning the school’s first State Title in 1987. Steinhoff remained as assistant baseball coach for the next 15 years after former player, Jim Scheer, took over in 2000.
Steinhoff contributes much of his success to “number one were the kids that played for me, I was fortunate to coach a lot of talented kids and hardworking kids. A coach is only going to be as good as his players.”
It’s also fair to say that a team is only as good as their leader(s).
Steinhoff said, “I was blessed with great assistant coaches starting right away with Gary Menke then Mr. (Tim) Strobel and Mr. (Derek) Bailey and the past two years coach (Aaron) Peirick.”
Menke remained with Steinhoff until 1990, before what is looked back today as the beginning of the Strobel/Steinhoff era when Tim Strobel became JV basketball coach and assistant to Steinhoff in 1992.
Then in 1997, after having played for Steinhoff, Derek Bailey joined his two former coaches and what would be the beginning of the greatest coaching trio (Steinhoff-Strobel-Bailey) in the history of New Haven basketball.
That same year Steinhoff would lead New Haven to their first Basketball State Championship in 27 years and accomplishing a goal that Steinhoff had always hoped to achieve.
“Winning that first state championship was kind of a relief because it had always been a goal of mine… Everyday I’d walk into the gym and look up at the wall of past state championship teams and try to picture myself up there. Asking yourself can I do what coach Hartzell, Sulltrup, and Glen Scheer did? You wanna be at that level… I just always wanted to win a state championship and I wanted the basketball program to get back to that level”, Steinhoff said.
Toughest part for Steinhoff while coaching.
The hardest part for Steinhoff is losing the last game of the season. “I hate the last game of the year, I mean hate them because you know what it feels like to win a State Championship and you want every kid to feel that, especially when you have a really good team who you feel has a shot at doing that and/or kids that have gone above and beyond in terms of their attitude and work ethic they’ve put into it… you feel they are deserving to win it all.”
Steinhoff said, “I’ve given about all the last game speeches I can… I just don’t know what to say anymore because losing that game tears me up inside. I feel miserable until about when the NCAA tournament is done and there’s no more basketball on TV. Then I am finally able to put it behind me.”
What made Steinhoff such a great coach and teacher?
I’ve asked this question to countless people and pondered about how I would answer this question. Honestly, I don’t believe there is an answer other than the obvious being his work ethic, dedication, compassion, love for teaching the game of basketball, and a great role model.
No different than a talented athlete, Steinhoff was a talented coach. The amount of time he put in preparing for practices, staying up watching game tape and his ability to scout opponents and simply out coach them, are in my mind reasons that contributed to Steinhoff’s greatness and ability to get the absolute most out of every player is a rare gift that very few coaches have.
So it could not have been more fitting that Steinhoff’s last game on the very floor that bears his name be a “classic” Steinhoff coached game, topping it off by winning his 11 District Title in 22 appearances, defeating number one seeded Elsberry 55-44, while capturing his 550 career win.
Steinhoff coached at New Haven High School for 34 years, 30 as the head coach. In 2011, Steinhoff won his 500th career game, was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association (MBCA) Hall of Fame, honored by the Missouri State Legislature, and had the court that his teams play on at New Haven High School dedicated in his name. Then in February 2012 the New Haven Boys Basketball Program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame where Steinhoff delivered the acceptance speech.
Steinhoff collected 550 wins vs. 288 losses for a career winning percentage of 66%. Coach Steinhoff is a four time Four Rivers Conference Coach of the Year and a two time Missouri Basketball Coaches Association and Missouri Sportswriters Coach of the Year. He won four conference titles despite being by far the smallest school in the conference. Coach Steinhoff led the Shamrocks to four Final Fours and won the Missouri State Championship in 1997, 1999, and 2001.