Todd Howard makes in game adjustments with UCLA defensive linemen during a home game.
Photo courtesy of UCLA
A decision 37 years ago has led Todd Howard to become UCLA’s Associate Head Coach, and could take him even higher up the coaching ladder.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Most 8-year-olds are too caught up in toys and cartoons to think about their future, but Todd Howard figured out exactly how he wanted to spend his life way back then.
In 1973, Howard fell in love with the sport of football when he saw O.J. Simpson rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season. Right then he told his mother what he wanted to do in the future.
“I told my mother that I wanted to play pro football,” Howard said. “Of course she kind of patted me on the back and patronized me a little bit and said ‘oh yeah sure, go for your goals.’ I was able to grow and I was blessed with athletic abilities, and I had the determination to make it happen.”
Howard was raised in the right state, because in Texas football is king.
By the time high school rolled around, Howard had grown into an all around athlete, excelling in both football and track & field.
Howard was not the typical track athlete, because he dominated as a hurdler and a shot putter. At 210 pounds, none of the shot putters took him serious, until he beat them all. Then he would prepare for his hurdles races and everybody thought that because he competed in the shot put that me must be slow. Well Howard ran the high hurdles in the 13-second range and he ran a 37.4 300-meter time. That’s blazing fast.
It is unusual for a player that is as big as a linebacker to be faster than sprinters and throw farther than 300 ponders in the shot put. Howard could have been great in the decathlon, but football was his passion.
Howard’s talents took him to Texas A&M, where he achieved two goals. He excelled in football, and he excelled in the classroom.
“Trying to juggle your academic with your athletic obligations can be hard and tricky,” Howard said. “You have to give both of them equal time.”
Howard does not believe that an education for an athlete is simply a back up plan.
“I don’t think it should be something you fall back on, but something that you are determined to get first,” Howard said.
Howard helped Texas A&M win a pair of conference titles, and he was an all-conference and honorable mention All-American player while in college.
In the 1987 draft, Howard was selected in the third-round by the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played two seasons as an inside linebacker and on special teams.
When Howard’s playing career ended he figured that his time in football was not over. He talked to some contacts that he had made over the course of his college and pro career, which helped him launch a coaching career that is going on 20 years.
Howard began his coaching career in 1991 at Texas A&M and was a member of three Southwest Conference championship coaching staffs. He moved on to Grinnell (Iowa) College from 1994-97, where he served as the defensive coordinator. While he was coaching there, Howard took part in the NFL’s minority coaching program with the Washington Redskins in their 1997 training camp, helping on defense.
The next year he landed a job on the St. Louis Rams coaching staff as a defensive assistant. Howard was on the coaching staff of the Rams team that won the Super Bowl after the 1999 season.
Howard’s next NFL coaching job was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he spent three seasons as the assistant defensive line coach.
Howard’s hard work and great performances as a coach landed him a job at UCLA as the defensive line coach. Since taking over the job, he has coached All Americans Bruce Davis and Justine Hickman, and 2009 PAC 10 Defensive Player of the Year Brian Price.
Howard has gained the title of Associate Head Coach, which moves him up the ladder to be a head coach one day. He said that he greatly appreciates the Bruin family, the players that he has coached, and the staff that he has worked with, but becoming a head coach of a program would be ideal for him.
“I’d like to be,” Howard said. “You don’t know what the future holds in store, but I’d certainly appreciate the opportunity to head a program.”
Besides his duties as the defensive line coach and associate head coach, Howard is also a scout for UCLA. His region is Los Angeles (he scouts most of the inner city schools), and he also scouts a lot of the South Bay schools.
Howard has some sound advice for high school kids looking to make it to a division I program like UCLA.
“It starts with having ability, and then you have to have the grades to get in to places that you want to go to,” Howard said.
Camps are also a good way to get visibility because a lot of coaches and scouts are there.
“If you’re going to make that commitment to getting a scholarship, then the investment of $50 for a camp can be good,” Howard said. “Because if you end up getting a scholarship that means that your parents do not have to pay. If I thought I had ability as a player in high school, I’m going to try to figure out someway that I can get to someone’s camp so that I can improve my chances of getting a scholarship.”
Scouting services can be wrong because they do not always get a good look at the players that they are giving out information on. Howard prefers to see the athletes in person.
“Every year we have a guy that, through the different rating services for recruits, who may not be a five star player, then he’ll come to camp and I’ll see how he takes instructions, and you know what, I like this kid,” Howard said. “I don’t care what somebody else said. I’ve actually seen him.”
Corner back Alterraun Verner is a good example of a player who was not highly rated by scout services, but who Howard saw talent in at UCLA’s camp. Verner was a three star player coming out of Mayfair high school in Lakewood, but UCLA’s coaching staff knew they had a great player when he performed at their camp. Verner became a starter as a true freshman.
Verner is now a rookie in the NFL, starting at cornerback for the Tennessee Titans.
Johnathan Franklin out of Dorsey high school is another example of a player maximizing college camps. UCLA’s coaching staff saw his talents, offered him a scholarship, and now he is in his second season as their starting running back.
Howard’s talents have helped him make a lifelong career out of football, and now he is helping young athletes achieve their dreams. There are not very many black head coaches in college football. Sooner or later Howard might increase that number.