Football: A conversation with Todd Howard

I talked tonight with new Cal defensive line coach Todd Howard. He impressed me as a good guy with a lot of personality and a pro. Perhaps a little dazed by the flurry of activity in his life, but enthused to go to work. He came across well.

Howard, 46, was a three-year starting linebacker at Texas A&M, a first-team all-conference pick as a senior in 1986. He spent two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and one with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football.

He has coached for 20 years at various level of college football and with both the St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.

Howard has three children: Trey, David and Ava. David, a 6-foot-8 high school senior in Nashville, Tenn., has signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball next season at Evansville.

Here’s our conversation:

You were a freshman at Texas A&M in 1983 when Cal beat the Aggies 19-17 at College Station after Ron Rivera tackled the ball carrier in the end zone for a safety to win it for the Bears. Did you play in the game and do you remember that bizarre finish?

“My very first college football game was against Cal. I just remember being disappointed I didn’t get a chance to play. I can’t remember the finish, but we looked like the Keystone Kops running around out there. I was thinking, `I can’t believe I committed to this school.’ ”

— What have these first few days on the job been like for you?

“Today (Monday) was pretty much my first day, just getting signed up in HR. I met with the players today, introduced myself. I was in my office, just kind of getting set up. Being somewhere different can be stressful. You’re meeting new peope, you’re out of your element as far as your surroundings are concerned. This is the second new team I’ve been at in a year. It’s like being a foster kid. All of a sudden you’re somewhere else.”

— For Cal fans worried they lost a star recruiter in Tosh Lupoi, what can you tell them about yourself that will make them feel better?

“I’m not as young as Tosh and I’m not taking anything away from him. But I’m pretty good with the kids, too. It’s a different relationship, more like a father-son thing. My coaching speaks for itself. I’ve had some success — three first-team All-Americans in four years at UCLA, a (Pac-10) Defensive Player of the Year (Brian Price), guys who are NFL players.

“I’ve coached at some fine institutions. I sell the school, but I also sell myself and my ability to help them achieve their goals. If you’re a heavyweight boxer amd you’re training for a world championship fight, you want to get someone to train you who has been there. These guys have ambitions.”

— I know you cannot talk about specific recruits, but can you address the challenges of moving from one program to another with barely two weeks left before signing day?

“You sell the school. It’s no different than if I was told to sell a Corvette and they said we don’t want you to sell a Corvette anymore, we want you to sell a Cadillac. The Corvette has different attributes. When you sell the Cadillac you’re going to get a smooth ride. Cal is one of the best, if not the best public school education in the world. It has a rich history. Everybody  knows about Cal-Berkeley. Everybody.”

— You have coached college players who made it to the NFL and you have coached in the league. How much currency does that have with recruits?

“Since I’ve coached guys who have been in the NFL, I know the attributes they bring. When I was at Jacksonville (2003-05), we had John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, both All-Pros. When I get these high school students, I can tell them this is where you are and this is where you need to go. They could be way off or they could be close. At least I know what it takes to play at the next level.”

— You played two seasons with the Chiefs and one in the World League of American football. Which was more fun — living in Kansas City or Barcelona?

“Kansas City is the Midwest and I grew to like some of the things that the Midwest offered. Being in Spain was wonderful, too. Being on the Mediterranean was a great, seeing a different culture. But I can you this: They didn’t know how to cook for us. They didn’t understand how much we eat. We had 50 people in our entourage — coaches, players, equipment people. They cooked like 10 chickens. You can imagine how far that went. We could probably each eat one. They eat late and they eat very little and they had this bread that was very hard.

“But they were wonderful people. I remember them wondering if we were going to play a football game because it was raining. And when the ball was in the air, whether it was a pass or a punt, they were in awe. They thought it was good when we punted the ball.”

— From 1994-97, you coached at Grinnell College in Iowa, alma mater to actor Gary Cooper and musician Herbie Hancock. When you walked through Cal’s new High Performance Center for the first time did you feel like Grinnell was a couple lifetimes ago?

“Grinnell was in a small town. But you sell Corvettes, you sell Cadillacs. What Grinnell has are really, really bright kids. And the school has a lot of money. They have a very large endowment. The stuff they had wasn’t on the scale of Cal-Berkeley, but it was nice. I had fun. It was a wonderful four years.”

Jeff Faraudo

  • Uh Huh!

    Very nice.
    I’m smiles!

  • Rollonubears

    Honest. No bs. Not exactly what I want to hear, especially about the sales thing, but it’s true, an he makes it make sense. I would trust him. I’m very happy he’s ours.

  • Esquire Joe

    I love this one: “At least I know what it takes to play at the next level.”

    Ouch! Take that, Tosh. Sounds like they found the right person for the job. He seems like he’s an aggressive and competitive guy, which is exactly what they need.

  • SportsBrah

    Todd Howard is an adult with a lot of experience that matters to kids who are willing and able to think smartly about big decisions in their lives, not just connecting over what the cool new Xbox games are.

  • Uh Huh!

    Drove 10 hours thru heavy snow storm to Portland, so he could arrive how many hours earlier than if he had just waited out the storm?
    No, he didn’t want to grab the job before someone else had a chance to interview. Not one bit.
    Translation: Berkeley > Pullman. And should answer any questions about age, energy, and desire. Nice going, Todd.

  • ConcordBear

    I hope he lands some great recruits. He’s gotten great ones before at ucla. His bruin DL’s were very good and played tough. His impact on DL performance on the field will be the big indicator of his worth. Our DL has had highly ranked talent the past few years but production, QB hits and dominance has not been great. Just like the OL’s worth, we need the DL playing great football and laying the foundation for our Defense!

  • Juancho

    Until the season starts hell be judged by his ability to close commits by feb 1.

    In other news cal commit zach hoffpauir is apparently not firm anymore. And will wait until signing day to decide between stanford and us.

  • Juancho

    A few interesting things I stumbled upon:

    This weekend is a big recruiting weekend for Cal. In the house is the # 1 ranked linebacker, Markuss Eligwe. He is a commit to Florida State. So while we feel bad that other programs are trying to poach our commits. We do the same thing. Although not to the slimy extent of Washington. Also in the house is Thomas Johnson. Who decommitted to Texas and is now considering Cal, Oregon and Texas A&M.

    Also – Cedric Dozier is no longer considering Washington. Apparently even though Kiesau is there now – Washington will not consider Dozier as a WR. They want him in the secondary only. Tells you something about Kiesau and Tosh doesn’t ? Recruited him heavily to play WR at Cal – but now that they’re at Washington suddenly they don’t think he’s good enough to play WR in the Pac 12. The word is that Dozier is once again solid with Cal. He had an in home visit with Mike Leach last night. But come on, Washington State and Pullman over Cal and the bay area ?

    Tosh Lupoi and company will have an in home visit with Arik Armstead on Thursday. Let’s hope Jeff Tedford’s visit this past Sunday night sets the stage for an uncomfortable night for Tosh. If half of the reports are true about how Tosh bailed on Tedford without being direct with him – there’s no way someone as smart as Guss Armstead will buy Tosh’s BS. I have a feeling this visit to Armstead could backfire DRAMATICALLY on Tosh and Washington and actually kill their chances with Shaq. The word here is that once again, Armstead is favoring Cal. But we’ve been down this road before.

    Aziz Shittu sent a tweet to Cal safety Avery Sebastian yesterday saying he deserves credit for being the one who kept the class of ’12 and the #calgang together. Not sure if he’s trying to get attention, but if nothing else hopefully this is a good sign Shittu is still considering us. Before the Tosh news he had given us a silent verbal, just like Armstead. Let’s not forget that picture of all of them throwing the Cal “C” at the Army Bowl.

    Armstead sent out a tweet last night to Shaq Thompson, Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton, Aziz Shittu. The first time in a long time I’ve seen those folks tweet one another as a group. Let’s hope that’s a good sign for us.

    Yuri Wright who had an offer from Cal, and is one of the top 3 cornerbacks in the country committed to Colorado. It’s for the best. He’s a great player but got into huge controversey last week after a year of profane tweets that got him expelled from his high school. He would have been another Darian Hagan. Talent but too much baggage.

  • Juancho

    Forgot to mention, Jordan Payton will have an in home with Tedford and Chandler this week.

  • rollonubears

    The chances of us getting everyone are about the same as the chances of us losing everyone. And we don’t have the scholarships to accommodate them all anyway. What happens in that scenario, by the way? Anyhow, I’ll be happy if we get about half of the guys we’re hoping for. It will make a great class. I want guys who really want to be here. Not folks who will be second-guessing their decision for the next 3+ years.

  • Meep.

    @Juancho- Poaching recruits in itself is accepted and not “slimy”. It’s a business. Hiring a recruiter from another school and using him to poach said recruits is slimy. His prior university essentially funded the relationships he’s built with those kids. By doing what UW did, all Cal did was potentially fund part of UW’s recruiting class. There’s a reason why scumbags like Lane Kiffin avoid doing stuff like this. When you do something that even Lane Kiffin, the master of NCAA recruiting violations, wouldn’t do, you know you’re treading in deep water. Thank god our recruits are class acts and standing firm — as of now, at least — and not listening to UW’s bullsh*t.

  • Juancho

    Agreed meep

  • Will

    Juancho, you’re the man. If you’re looking for a career change, I’d suggest throwing an app to the CC Times to replace JO – JF is being overworked here, and you have the enthusiasm to do a great job here.

  • Juancho

    My Cal education taught me to approach everything, even following recruiting with a passion and champions effort.

    Thanks Will.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    Jauncho, keep it up. By the 28th, you could post propoganda here in the comment section and ESPN will probably use it as “anonymous sources” for their Insider coverage.

  • Juancho

    Hahahahahah. Well said Wisdom. The one thing I refuse to do is be one of these folks that pressure recruits on twitter. I don’t even have a twitter. I just have a few guys added to my favorites page so I can see what they post.

    I can’t stand when you see a Cal person is giving one of the recruits guff for possibly opening his recruitment.

    Leave them alone.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    difinitely. I’d bet 85-90% of those that “open recruitment” and take trips are basically just taking vacations on other schools’ tabs.

  • Juancho

    Get this.

    Early today uncommited cb brandon beaver (army all american) replied to bryce treggs on twitter. Treggs tweeted he was excited for coming to cal this weekend. Beaver asked him why, treggs told him its a big recruiting weekend.

    So beaver cancelled his official to oklahoma and will visit cal instead.

    Chris harper (another commit) replied telling him his goal is to get beaver to commit to cal this weekend.

    Beaver replied something along the lines of “we’re gonna see whats up”.

    What a great surprise this would be.

  • daredevilfan

    Darn it Juancho, you’re getting my hopes up again. You’ve even got Wisdom Cow to come out of his self-inflicted time-out. Hopefully this can all turn around to still be a great Feb. 1st. Kline to Treggs and a killer defense sounds like a great future.

  • ThisisCal

    Any update on Shaq Thompson?

  • Juancho


    Take a look at that. That should get oyr speculative hopes up even higher.

    Treggs, payton, ishmael adams, chris harper and kodi whitfield all hosting a sugning day party together.

  • Juancho

    Shaq spent yesterday tweeting lamichael james and getting in tiuch with deanthony thomas.

    He also reached out to a ucla cornerback.

    Hes smart enough to do a lot of his communicating through private messages though.

    Chip kelly no showed him this weekend because of the bucs.
    Want to see what shakes down after tosh visit thursday with armstead.

    Im willing to bet shaq armstead and shittu will end up at no more than two schools max. If not all at the same.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    Juancho, you’re starting to remind of one of those 4G, knowing how to post videooos to-uh facebuuk, guys.

  • Juancho

    Haha thats my favorite commercial.

    In other news chip kelly has an in home visit with shaq friday.

    Tedford and co and washington also have in homes with shaq this week.

    According to ryan gorcey who is rivals’ person who covers cal, a source says beaver to cal is looking good. Again thats twitter so who the hell knows if its true.

    A hell of a lot of commits are up here this weekend. Theyre trying like the dickens to get shaq armstead and payton to come in.

    I wouldnt be surprised if they rented a bus and just drove to their homes.

    Imagine zach kline driving a bus full of commits ?

  • Pc

    Juancho, you need to get on twitter so I can follow you! 😉

  • Daniel

    Avery + Bryce + Zach > Tosh

  • Juancho

    Pc Twitter looks too addictive for me to take the plunge. My contribution to society would suffer even further.

    For anyone looking for a morning speculation fix:

    1. Last night Jordan Payton had an in home with Tedford. Afterwards he tweeted something along the lines of: “This ones for Coach Tedford. Love you coach.” Then after it started to go viral he deleted the tweet.

    As a true Cal football person – I can read that entirely negatively, or also positively. Was it a “thanks for understanding, I’m leaving” I love you. Or was it a, you’re the one for me – I love you. If we want to stay positive let’s consider that soon after the Tosh / Kiesau news Payton changed his twitter icon shortly. I.e., he took down the photo of him wearing his Cal hat. However that image came back up and stays back up. Once he takes down that icon I will start to think he is gone. Until then – who knows. Maybe he’s realizing that Cal is the right place for him. Let’s hope. I mean the guy’s 6’3″ and runs 4.45 40 yard dash. So even though part of us will say, who cares it’s just one guy. And if he doesn’t want to come so be it. Those are impressive numbers.

    2. Cedric Dozier re-iterated he’s solid with Cal. Although, Mike Leach will come in for his second in home visit with him of the week, tomorrow.

    3. As I mentioned yesterday, Brandon Beaver decided to take an official visit to Cal this weekend. The plot thickens. Last night Beaver tweeted “I’m outty…#CalGang what’s goodie.” If anyone needs a translation – I’m outty typically means “I am removing myself from a situation / relationship / commitment”. “What’s goodie” typically means, greetings; what are some current goings on as I would like to partake.

    Avery Sebastian responded to Beaver telling him to join the CalGang. Beaver replied “fasho” which translates to definitely, sounds good. And told Avery that he will discuss with him this weekend during his visit.

    Keep in mind that Gorcey who works for Rivals had previously reported that sources were saying Beaver to Cal was looking good.

  • Juancho

    4. Kenny Lawler, who is an Oregon State lean, and is another top wide receiver is waiting to see if he gets an invite to come for an official visit to Cal this weekend. The speculation is that he will only get the official invite if it looks like the staff thinks Payton will leave.

    If Lawler is not in town this weekend, one can speculatively interpret this as a good sign with Payton.

    Keep in mind when it comes to wide receivers:


    Bryce Treggs
    Kenny Walker
    Darius Powe (who I think will be the best of the group)
    Cedric Dozier


    Jordan Payton (I still consider him a Cal lean)
    Thomas Johnson (decommit from Texas visiting this weekend)
    Stefon Diggs (speculation is Cal is in his top 3, he’s the top rated of all the guys including our commits)
    Kenny Lawler (least “highly rated” of the guys considering, but still a 3-4 star)

  • Juancho

    I’m sure someone caught this. I forgot to include Chris Harper above as one of our committed wide receivers.

    Not surprisingly he is the least highly rated of all the guys committed or considering. Either way he’s more highly rated than anyone not named Keenan Allen that we’ve signed at the WR position in the past two years.

    Which should say something extraordinary about this year’s WR class. All of these guys are more highly rated than any single guy not named Keenan at the WR position in 2-3 years. Think about that. And think about Zach Kline.

  • Juancho

    Four star running back Dj Foster will make a decision on Friday we have been a longtime leader

  • The Wisdom Cow

    On the WR recruiting for this year, one thing keeps me uneasy. There can be no denying Leach can and will promise playing time and deliver it, too.

    I still think some of the more savy WR recruits see the value of Cal and U$C over the “gimmick” offenses because of the propensity to use pro sets, but that almost gets thrown out the window after Leach was hired. He’ll be running 4 guys, stressing routes and reads, and it will be a serious selling point for Pullman.

    Juancho, I couldn’t help but laugh now that you are adding some translations. I don’t even try, having been out of the loop for so long. I discovered I got old (ouch, over a decade ago) when I needed clarification from a client as to what “off the hook” meant.

    Oooh, on that, TO ALL PROSPECTIVE BEARS, I learned a new term being used ad nauseum is that a person went “xbox”. For context, a defendant says his girlfriend went “xbox” in that she completely changed her story. Please, everyone, realize just how ignorant this is. It is not clever, to use “xbox” to to say someone flipped positions, altering 360 degrees.

    End rant. Go bears!

  • David

    it’s us and ASU for Foster, we’ll see what happens.

  • DelthaForce

    Wisdom Cow, that reminds me of one my favorite Jason Kidd quotes: “We’re going to turn this team around 360 degrees.” Kidd must not have gotten anywhere Heart Mining Circle or any part of campus dealing with numbers. Go Bears!

    Read more: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jason_kidd.html#ixzz1kVJxMlB5

  • rollonubears

    wisdom cow, now you’ve got me all turned around.

  • Juancho

    I’ll never forget Jason Kidd’s quote. Still brings me a laugh. Turning something around 360 degrees essentially doesn’t turn it around at all. You start and stop in the same spot.

    What he wanted to say was turn it around 180 degrees.

  • covinared

    what about the linemen? It seems that a good team needs a dominate line more than its needs to be three deep in receivers.

  • The Wisdom Cow

    Covinared, without looking at the roster, the only NEED this year on the OL was another center, and Cochran is a consensus top 5 at the position. The other recruits for the line all look promising as well, two rated well above Cochran (though OTs tend to rate higher than Cs). I have complete faith in the coaching staff’s ability to keep the OL program rolling with our guru back.

  • rollonubears

    Is feb1 a signing deadline, or just the first day you can commit in writing? Heard talk about shaq not committing until AFTER feb1.

  • David

    Feb1 is the first day they can sign.

  • covinared

    Wisdom: I agree, but recruiting is more focused on projected needs at least 1-2 years down the line. Its pretty rare that true freshmen are good enough to significantly contribute right away, even at receiver.