YOU'RE TOO SLOW for your size. And too short for your speed.

Those were the phrases playfully sent John Steinmetz' way by coach John "Tex" Flannery during his playing - well, mostly watching - career with La Salle High's football varsity.

Steinmetz (class of 1977) was a backup defensive back and though he did not envision a coaching career at that time, he did always think his football aptitude was rather respectable.

Obviously, despite the barbs, so did Flannery.

Only 2 years later, while attending nearby Spring Garden College, Steinmetz was made part of Flannery's staff and immediately became the freshman team's defensive coordinator.

Did he enjoy himself? Guess so. This is his 33rd year with the program.

Saturday at 5 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium, La Salle, the defending champion, will meet Northern Allegheny, of suburban Pittsburgh, for the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.

Steinmetz, as always, will be taking brisk walks up and down the sideline while flashing the defensive signals and oozing class. Keels don't come much more even.

Up in the stands, having been transported to Chocolate Town in a mini-bus/limo rented by John, will be 30 family members.

You know how some guys get into coaching young because they love the game, and then hang around because they want to influence their sons' careers? Not John Steinmetz. He and wife Mary Pat have produced four daughters - Christine, Michele, Mary Kate and Colleen. They range in age from 23 to 15.

"I tell everyone I have the four most astute female football minds in the country," Steinmetz beamed yesterday, during an indoor practice at YSC Sports in Hatboro. "They really know the game and enjoy it. They come to every game.

"Mary Kate wears my letterman's jacket. People are always asking her where she got it. They want to buy it."

Steinmetz' coaching stint has featured 27 full-blown seasons and six when work obligations limited him to game-day help in the booth. He was the defensive coordinator under Joe Colistra for 15 seasons (1985-94, 2001-05), and he has worked under Drew Gordon for five.

Steinmetz felt honored when Gordon called him before deciding to accept the top job, primarily to ask whether he intended to remain on board.

When John said yes, Drew almost turned cartwheels.

"Nobody works harder than John," Gordon said. "The time he puts into the program is incredible. And it goes way beyond the X-and-O stuff. He makes a lot of phone calls. Sends a lot of e-mails. Helps a lot of our kids get into college programs.

"For me, still having John as the defensive coordinator was crucial. It made the transition so simple."

Making time for coaching is not a snap for Steinmetz, who spent his youth in Olney homes near 2nd and Sparks (until eighth grade), then 9th and 65th. He's a technology director for SEI Investments and often leaves for work before dawn even thinks about cracking, so he can make time for La Salle's late-afternoon practices.

Luckily, Gordon is the king of flexibility. If Steinmetz runs late, as happened yesterday (slightly), offense will be the focus for the first part of practice. And if the offensive guys are dealing with holdin'-'em-up issues, Steinmetz will flex his schedule and pop in early.

Ask him what he most likes about coaching and Steinmetz mentions "how well the players are able to study and grasp a concept, then apply it."

He expanded.

"A team will come out in a formation and right away the guys will yell over, 'Should we switch to [so-and-so]?' That means they've done their homework."

Literally, he's talking.

In Steinmetz' possession yesterday were sheets of paper with sections about the size of 3-by-5 cards. They included specific alignments and concepts.

"I prepare these every week on the computer, with special software we bought, and I e-mail them to the kids," he said.

Then he laughed. "Of course, kids don't read their e-mail much these days, so I have to text them to tell them the plays are in their e-mail. At least a couple must read them and pass things on. Because they're always ready."

Prominent among Steinmetz' most cherished moments are last year's state final - "the culmination of a lot of hard work for a lot of kids" - and the 2006 Catholic Red championship game. In that one, the Explorers forced four turnovers at or near the goal line to stun St. Joseph's Prep, 14-7. One of the TDs was Greg Frantz' 96-yard fumble return.

Only last week, though the result was a 38-35 triumph over North Penn, Steinmetz and his crew experienced some rough going. And John knew exactly where to place the blame.

"The first thing I said at halftime was that two of those TDs were my mistake," he said. "I made dumb calls. North Penn took advantage of some things we'd been getting away with for a couple weeks.

"To put our team in a bad position, that was very disheartening. Luckily, we came out for the third quarter and turned around the momentum."

North Penn did post two TDs in the second half.

"We'd been having real good success with halftime adjustments," Steinmetz said. "Those were the first second-half touchdowns allowed by our first-team defense since the game against Bergen Catholic [of North Jersey, in Week 2]."

Steinmetz said that working under Flannery (deceased), Colistra and Gordon has been a privilege. Colistra was a longtime defensive coordinator under Flannery, and Steinmetz said "his fingerprints, from how he describe stuff to how we teach it, are still all over this defense."

Along the way, has Steinmetz ever desired to take over a program?

"I'm thinking my situation is unbelievably unique," he said. "I love both my jobs. I'm very happy with the way things are."

Too slow for his size. Too short for his speed.

Great over a long stint in coaching. *