Steamboat Springs The meeting was a short one, but the message Tom Steitz gave to his athletes will leave a lasting impression.
Immediately after the first event of Wednesday's Chevy Truck National Jumping Championships, the longtime Nordic combined coach called his athletes together and announced he was stepping down after Wednesday's event.
Steitz said it was hard to watch his team compete one last time at the National Championships, but he thinks the time is right to close the book on his successful stint as a U.S. Ski Team coach.
"To walk away from a job is easy, but to walk away from the boys, that's much, much harder," Steitz said. "And to walk away from the community of Steamboat that has supported us over the years well that is even harder."
The coach said he feels as if he has accomplished just about everything he can as a coach in the sport of Nordic combined with the exception of an Olympic medal. He said the constant travel demands, the time away from his family and the knowledge that it will take another four years to get back to the Olympics weighed heavily in his decision.
When he took the team over in 1992, the Americans were dead last in the world.
Since then, Steitz has taken the squad to the top of the world rankings. This year both Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong finished in the top 10 of the final Nordic combined standings.
The American skiers were fourth in the 1995 World Championships and finished fourth in the team event at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City the best American finish ever.
Lodwick was fifth in the Olympic sprint event and seventh in the individual event. Lodwick and Demong also won World Cup events this season, while Alex Glueck and Nathan Gerhart earned medals at the World Juniors.
"We as a community owe him a great deal of thanks for what he did," said Rod Hanna, the former vice president of marking who helped bring a Nordic Combined World Cup to Steamboat eight years ago.
Hanna said Steitz was tenacious when it came to building support, and funds, for his team.
Hanna remembers the squad's humble beginnings when the skiers and coaches had to beg local businesses for enough money to buy things like uniforms. But it didn't take long for Steitz to put the team on the map and help his skiers start recording top international results.
"When I started it was reason to celebrate if we had a skier in the top 15," he said. "Now we are disappointed if we don't have two skiers in the top 15. I think the thing I am most proud of is that I didn't walk away when things were hard back in 1991 and 1993.
"We've focused on creating a first-rate elite program without overlooking development because you have to have athletes in the pipeline. I think that's been pretty successful. I am quite pleased with what we've done the last few years in closing ground on teams with much bigger national programs."
Steitz, 47, is a native of Penfield, N.Y., who graduated from Utah State, where he coached the cross country team and raced for the Alpine team. A competitive kayaker, he was a member of the U.S. Whitewater team from 1978-84 before moving to Colorado and taking a job as a Nordic coach with the Winter Sports Club.
During his stint as head coach, Steitz changed the way the U.S. Ski Team did things.
He was one of the first coaches to begin a residency program, he played a key role in getting the Nordic Combined World Cup to come to Steamboat and was innovative in finding ways to fund his team in lean years.
He also made Steamboat the base of the Nordic Combined Ski Team and built a huge amount of local support something that may disappear with a new coaching regime.
As an ambassador for Steamboat and the U.S. Ski Team, Steitz said he has met kings and queens, professional athletes and movie stars.
He viewed coaching as a chance to introduce Steamboat to the world and he found supporters in every corner.
Steitz said he would never forget when he met movie star Tom Selleck, who is a huge Olympic supporter and a friend of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team.
"He told me that if you love a job, then you will never work a day in your life," Steitz said.
During his career, Steitz has made 102 trips to Europe, spent countless hours on buses and too many days locked in a European hotel room in an effort to escape the rain.
Steitz said he will not miss any of that stuff, but there will be a few things that will tug at his heart.
"I will miss seeing the guys standing on the podium," Steitz said. "The future of Nordic combined skiing is very bright I know these guys will be successful in the future."
Alan Ashley, U.S. Ski Team vice president of athletics, agreed.
"Tom did a terrific job putting a program in place and building it to this point. It took a lot of hard work and we certainly appreciate all the effort he's put into it. We definitely wish him the best."
Steitz is not the only coach that will be leaving the team this week. Jan-Erik Aalbu, combined athletic head coach for the past two seasons, will also leave the team to become ski jumping program director for his homeland of Norway.
Steitz said he is exploring a couple of interesting opportunities both within and outside the ski industry. The Steitz family will continue to live in Steamboat.