Steed Lobotzke: Right man, right place, right time
What Steed Lobotzke learned at Oakmont High School helped shape the way he coaches today. Away from the small town and in the big-time world of college football, he learned another lesson:
“It’s all who you know,” Lobotzke said Thursday from Winston-Salem, N.C., where he’s preparing for his ninth season as offensive coordinator at Wake Forest University. “And I happened to know the right guy.”
Lobotzke knew Jim Grobe. After graduating from Oakmont in 1988, Lobotzke entered the Air Force Academy, where Grobe was an assistant coach. Lobotzke went on to coach with Grobe at Ohio University before joining Grobe’s staff at Wake Forest.
Lobotzke said coaches look for assistants with a quality work ethic, character, someone who will put in the time.
“I was lucky enough to play at Air Force when Jim Grobe was there,” Lobotzke said. “That’s how most guys get in.”
He also was fortunate to play for Mike Lynch at Oakmont. Lynch coached the offensive line on which Lobotzke played. Lobotzke noted football has a reputation for “screaming, spitting, punching.” Not Lynch.
“The thing I remember about him ... Mike was just a class act. He didn’t have to cuss to get his point across,” Lobotzke said. “He coached with intensity but not with foul language. Without noting it at the time, I really respected that as a player. I try to be corrective. I try to be more of a teacher than a screamer.”
Lobotzke earned all-league and other honors as a junior and senior at Oakmont. He also wrestled, having been collared by Lynch, who recently retired after molding the program at Granite Bay. Grizzlies wrestling coach Shane Dixon renamed the former Grizzly Duals in Lynch’s honor.
“He made me come out my junior year. I avoided it like the plague,” Lobotzke said, laughing and adding that in the end, he’s glad he wrestled. “It’s a great, mentally tough sport and physically demanding. I was better as a college player because of wrestling.”
Lynch noted that while many athletes who were being recruited at that time hung up their other sports, Lobotzke wrestled again in his senior year, won a league title and came within one match of qualifying for the State Meet.
“In those days, they only took the top four (at the Sac-Joaquin Section Meet). In today’s market, he’d have been at the state tournament,” Lynch said. “He was an extremely bright kid, goal-oriented and had a great work ethic. He refined his talent as much as you possibly could. He made a lot of progress that first year as a junior.”
Lynch entertained an Air Force Academy recruiter at his home one day and played a highlight film of Lobotzke.
“I told him what a great kid Steed was. I’m just proud as I can be of having him come through the program. The recruiter said, ‘And he’s also a wrestler.’ They loved that. I was so proud of Steed when he went to the Air Force Academy.”
Lobotzke was named second-team All-Western Athletic Conference as a junior and all-WAC as a senior. He also played in the East-West Shrine Game. Lobotzke said he “just wasn’t good enough or big enough” to play in the NFL.
“I was 235 pounds when I played in the Shrine Game,” he said.
But he was good enough to coach. After his playing career ended, Lobotzke’s coaching career began. He stayed on with the Air Force Academy as a graduate assistant.
“I did a good job. We went to a bowl game,” Lobotzke said. “(Grobe) got to see my work ethic as a coach, albeit it a grad assistant.”
That was all it took. Grobe went on to become head coach at Ohio University. Lobotzke, in active duty at the time and about six months shy of being discharged, caught one of the Air Force Academy’s last games in the 1996 season. Other former Air Force players were there. They remembered Lobotzke.
“I was fresh on their brains,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, they literally called me and said, ‘Do you want a job?’ No interview, no résumé. Nothing.”
Lobotzke was discharged in February 1997. He spent the next four years coaching centers and guards at Ohio. When Grobe was hired at Wake Forest, he took his assistants with him.
During his tenure, he promoted Troy Calhoun, with whom Lobotzke played at the Air Force Academy, to offensive coordinator. When Calhoun left for the NFL — he’s now the head coach at the Air Force Academy — Lobotzke was promoted, due in large part to a recommendation from Billy Mitchell, Lobotzke’s JV coach at the Air Force Academy and now an associated head coach at Wake Forest. Former Air Force players Brian Knorr and Steve Russ also are on the Wake Forest staff.
“They call us Air Force East,” Lobotzke said.
Lobotzke said he’s had several interviews to be a head coach but hasn’t found the right fit. Now he’s watching young coaches.
“You kind of earmark guys in the industry,” he said.
What Lobotzke hasn’t been able to do as much as he’d like is visit his hometown. Lobotzke’s parents, Patsy and Bill, and brother Darik live in Roseville. Lobotzke and his wife, Kristin, are busy with daughters ages 8, 3 and 1.
Wake Forest plays in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State and Clemson play in Wake Forest’s half of the ACC. Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina are among the schools in the other half.
Wake Forest’s recruiting standards are tough, and it’s the third-smallest Bowl Championship Series school, according to Lobotzke.
“The trickiest line we walk at Wake Forest,” he said. “Bring in the wrong person, they stand out. We have to recruit the right person, but they also have to be able to beat Florida State and Miami.”