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.”