Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of …
Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of Black & Gold Glory” book by Gary Ownbey. It is due to be published in December. This is the conclusion of a two-part story, the beginning of which ran in Sunday’s Banner.
From the thousands of athletes that have played in Bradley County, there is one whose name is mentioned immediately when discussing the best of the best — Steve Sloan.
Sloan was an All-State performer in both football and basketball his junior and senior seasons, leading both Bradley Central teams to state championships in the 1961-62 school year.
The three-sport standout also led the Bear golf team to a second (1960) and fourth place (1962) finish in state golf championships, plus finished third individually his final season.
He then accepted a scholarship to play collegiately for legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
When Sloan went to the University of Alabama, freshmen weren’t allowed to participate in varsity sports, so he played for the freshmen team while future NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath led the varsity Tide.
Sloan first rose to prominence for Bama in 1963, when Namath was relegated to Coach Bryant’s doghouse for some of his misbehavior.
Although he had played mainly defensive back throughout the season, Sloan got his opportunity to shine at QB in the Sugar Bowl, leading Bama to a 12-7 upset of Mississippi and against another legendary coach, Johnny Vaught of the Rebels.
The following year Namath was injured and Sloan was “the man” as the Crimson Tide ran the table to an unbeaten regular season, winning the SEC crown and the National Championship even though they lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl, 21-17. During those days the national title was awarded before the bowl games were played.
In 1965, Namath graduated and left the guidance of the Crimson Tide completely for Sloan’s senior season and he responded by winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top passer while leading Alabama to a second straight SEC and NCAA National Championship, plus a 39-28 victory in the Orange Bowl over Nebraska.
Bama was ranked fourth in the polls prior to the game while the Cornhuskers were ranked third. However, earlier in the day No. 1 Michigan State lost in the Rose Bowl while second-ranked Arkansas was upset in the Sugar Bowl, setting up the Orange Bowl game that night as the National Championship battle when the Tide prevailed.
During his playing days in Tuscaloosa, Sloan led Bama to three consecutive New Year’s Day bowl games, twice in the Orange Bowl and once in the Sugar Bowl, plus the two SEC and national titles. Not too bad for a Texas-born Tennessean.
After being drafted and playing two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, Sloan returned to Alabama as an assistant coach and then became the youngest collegiate head coach in America at age 29, when he took over the Vanderbilt Commodore football program.
In his second season, Sloan earned the 1974 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year award by leading Vandy to their first bowl game in 20 years, where they tied Texas Tech 6-6 in the Peach Bowl.
He must have really impressed the folks at Texas Tech because they offered him their head coaching position. After originally declining, he accepted the offer in January of 1975, taking five of his assistant coaches with him including boyhood friends and fellow former Bradley standout Rex Dockery and local coaching legend Bill Talley. Sloan’s coaching staff also included future NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and former NFL head coach and current defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans Romeo Crennel.
Sloan led the Red Raiders to the Southwest Conference championship with a 10-2 record in 1976 and was voted as the SWC Coach of the Year.
After three seasons in Texas, Sloan returned to the SEC, taking over the Ole Miss program for five years before making his final head coaching stop at Duke before hanging up his coaching whistle in 1986.
Next up for Sloan was filling the athletic director’s shoes at Alabama, North Texas, Central Florida and UT-Chattanooga. He is now living the retired life of a football coach, playing golf about anytime he wants to in Orlando, Fla.
One of the most coveted awards presently annually since 1966 by Bradley Central is the “Steve Sloan Award.” It represents a student who has character and integrity with Christian values that will take him far in life.
Sloan recently reminisce about his playing days. “When I think of Bradley football during those years, I think of all the great players we had. They always came to play,” he recalled. “I am always thankful that I got to attend Bradley Central. The administrators, teachers and coaches made a big difference in my life. Bradley is one of my favorite memories.”
He was also extremely appreciative of his teammates while playing football for the Bears. “During those four years I was on the Bradley football team we had a lot of outstanding players at every position.
“One player during those four years that always stood out to me was William Senters. He was a great player all the time. He didn’t say a lot but he played on a very high level every play. Someone like William doesn’t come along very often,” he spoke from the heart.
Asked about the most inspirational person in his career in high school, Sloan replied, “Coach (Bill) Walker coached basketball and assisted in football. He meant a lot to me. He was a very special man and an inspiration to me while at Bradley Central.”
As for his inspiration in college, it’s no surprise he pointed to “Bear” Bryant. “In college Coach Bryant was the most dominant person I ever met. I don’t think anybody would intentionally ever cross him. His leadership and motivational skills were superb. Coach Bryant also helped a lot of players after they graduated.”
“Coach Bryant was very clear about the goals and objectives. He was tough, competitive and a great leader.”
As for his greatest memory in a college game he stated, “It was probably the Orange Bowl game with Nebraska in January 1966. It was basically for the National Championship and we won 39-28.”
Sloan’s modesty forbids him to in any way brag about his own personal part in this game but the fact is he hooked up with future Super Bowl player and Alabama head coach Ray Perkins for two touchdown passes and was named the MVP in that Orange Bowl game.
At Bradley, Sloan was named to All-State teams in his junior and senior years in both basketball and football while leading both Bear teams to state championships his final year.
In 1965 at Alabama he was named First Team All-American by the Football News, First Team Academic All-American, MVP of the Southeastern Conference, MVP of the Orange Bowl and a member of the SEC Legends Hall of Fame. An incomparable career to say the least.
Steve and his wife, Brenda, are enjoying their retirement years in the Orlando, Florida, area.
They have two sons, Steve and Jonathon. Steve is currently living and working in the Czech Republic while Jonathon continues to live in Orlando.
Sloan summed up his feelings about Bradley with these words:
“When I think of 100 years of Bradley High School football it makes me appreciate the teachers, coaches and administrators even more.
“Bradley is not just bricks and mortar. It is teachers who helped thousands of young people along the way.
“Teachers have an important job in our community. They set the tone for young people and put them on a path that makes their life count.
“Bradley is a high school to be proud of. Yes, athletics are important but people are important too. I hope and pray that teachers realize the influence that they have on these young adult lives.
“This book (Ownbey’s ‘100 Seasons of Black & Golf Glory’) is a tribute to all the student-athletes and coaches who played football or coached at Bradley Central for these 100 years. Thanks to each of you for leaving your mark on Bradley Central High School,” he summarized.
Sloan is considered an icon when it comes to local athletics. There has never been a more beloved athlete in the history of the school and his love of Bradley Central comes through loud and clear when he speaks of it.
He is also one of the most humble and modest Southern gentleman that you will ever meet in life and is truly a treasured member of the Bear Nation.
Another award honoring Sloan was being named No. 1 in the Top 100 Athletes of All Time on Sport Talk radio in Chattanooga.
It is an honor that listed him above the likes of NFL and UT legend Reggie White, Bobby Scott of Rossville, Georgia, former major league pitcher Rick Honeycutt of Lakeview, Georgia, Andy Kelly of Rhea County and many other legendary sports figures of the past 50-plus years.
Even those who live or played outside of Cleveland and Bradley County know what a special student, friend, athlete and Christian gentleman that Steve Sloan represents.
He is simply the greatest multisport athlete who ever attended Bradley Central High School.
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