Gleaves retires after 31 years, leaves legacy of excellence


Courtesy of St. John's School

Gleaves surveys a game from the sidelines.

Lee Monistere and Dalia Sandberg

As the fourth quarter came to a close, fans erupted into cheers after the Mavs topped the rival Kinkaid Falcons 27-21 in their annual football matchup. At the helm of that victorious 2012 football team was Head Coach Steve Gleaves. Last May, Gleaves announced his retirement from coaching after 31 years of service to the School.

Gleaves played football in college, starting as a punter at Rice for four years. He received a tryout invitation from the Philadelphia Eagles in 1980, but he was one player short of being cut. Losing the spot on the Philadelphia Eagles allowed him to pursue a career in coaching. 

After being a football coach at Kinkaid for 11 years, Gleaves made his way from Piney Point to River Oaks and worked as an assistant coach for the SJS football team before taking over the reins from Coach Skip Lee, the namesake of the field.

 “Gleaves was keen on sportsmanship and did everything the right way,” said Vince Arduini, Director of Athletics. “It earned him respect from his players and fellow coaches.”

During his tenure, Gleaves revamped the football team. He ran an old-school offense: the veer offense. The veer offense is a run-oriented play style that aims to confuse the defense by obscuring the location of the ball. To be executed correctly, the team must read the opponent’s defense and have a mutual understanding among all players. Gleaves was determined to master the play, despite the changing trends of football. The 2012 team finally accomplished it, altering the course of their season.

Even though football was his passion, Gleaves always enjoyed playing and coaching tennis.  After 24 years, in 2015, Gleaves left his football career behind him and decided to focus entirely on tennis.

“He was pretty different from your stereotypical tennis coach,” said Eric Gao (‘16), former SJS athlete and current Upper School math teacher.  “Even though he commanded respect, he was very calm and personal. He stuck with his organized routines, and he always made sure his players looked presentable.”

Gleaves’s extensive experience in high school and collegiate sports primed him to instill traditional values in his players. 

 “He was a guy that dotted his I’s and crossed his T’s and tucked in his shirts,” Chambers said. “He was the consummate pro, from the way he dressed to the way he was organized with all his files.”

Gleaves’s philosophies still remain at St. John’s. The boys’ tennis team’s mantra stems from an innocent conversation about Whataburger between the two coaches. 

“I had come to one of our practices at Rice with two Whataburger ice teas to give to the winner of a contest Gleaves and I were having,” Chambers said. “We then started joking and thinking about everything that had to do with iced tea, and that’s how we came up with our program’s phrase. Now, after practices,before practices, before a match, we say ‘Tee it Up.’”

Gleaves spent over 31 years working to improve the lives of student-athletes and went above and beyond in everything he did. He served the community exceptionally well.

“He was incredibly competitive but never let his desire to win overshadow teaching his players to prepare and play the game the right way: with honor and discipline,” said Marty Thompson (‘91), Director of Experiential Education. “He emphasized ‘doing the right thing’ at all times, and he made sure players knew that their character and the way they handled adversity, both individually and as a team, were more important than wins and losses.”

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 10, Gleaves was named TTCA 2022 Private School Coach of the Year.