“The bottom line is, you coach a lot (of kids and games). You win some, you lose some, but the bottom line for me is personal relationships. Because the wins and losses you forget about. The wins are going to come along no matter what you do. So are the losses. But if you coach for the sake of relationships, the relationship with your players, with your fellow coaches, with your (athletes’) parents, it makes a difference, it really does. All I have to do is turn around and see someone walking down the sidewalk that I coached 15 years ago, and that says it all. I know them. They know me. We’re happy to see each other.”
In this quote from an archival interview, and among conversations with former players and the young coaches Jerry Howell mentored, it is clear that he firmly passed on the lesson that a team was built around relationships first and each member doing things the right way. He treated teams like families and players like family members. He learned this firsthand by attending St. Stephen’s School in the 1960s. Early in his coaching career, Coach Howell would say of his time at St. Stephen’s, “When I was here as a student, there was a strong sense of family, and I want to continue striving for that family base.”
Coach Howell was an incredible high school athlete in his own right. At St. Stephen’s he played football, basketball, and baseball, and he ran track. He was all-league in football and earned honors in both The Washington Post and Evening Star newspapers as an all-prep player on both offense and defense. He managed to letter in four sports during the three-sport season in multiple years. He went on to play football under Lou Holtz at William & Mary before being sidelined by injury. Upon graduation he substituted as a coach at George Mason University and went on to serve in various teaching and coaching capacities at independent schools and junior colleges. He was an assistant coach at William & Mary when he received a call from Dick Babyak to come back to St. Stephen’s School in 1983.
Early in his coaching career at SSS, he said in an interview for the school magazine, “If I could absorb even a bit of Sleepy Thompson’s knowledge, then I might be successful in my position.” Coach Howell absorbed a lot. He worked under every athletic director in the history of the school. His resume included coaching football for 26 years, baseball for nine years, ice hockey for 13 years, golf for 15 years, and basketball for 20 years, along with a year or two of tennis and track and field. Coach Howell even helped coach girls basketball and girls lacrosse. He taught PE and coached Middle School athletics for more than 20 years.
Perhaps Jerry Howell’s finest coaching moments came in 1997 on the baseball diamond, when he led the Saints to their first IAC Championship in the history of the school. Former Athletic Director and current Upper School Math Teacher Doug Adams recalls, “He took those players and taught them to be relaxed and to play with confidence and athletic arrogance. He unleashed them in a major way, and I remember how proud we all were when they won the IAC title … He also knew that it is the kids who make us look good. During that ’97 baseball campaign, a local reporter once asked Jerry to explain his techniques and secrets of getting the boys to play so well. His response was, ‘I just make sure they all get on the bus!’”
A player on that team, David Mason ’97, remembers, “He dedicated his life to the kids at SSSAS. Personally, it was his first year as the head baseball coach that was the most special to me. During that one season, Coach Howell became a lifelong friend. He taught every student athlete the importance of doing it the right way and having fun while you do it. Coach Howell was ‘old school’ in his approach, but he taught hundreds (if not thousands) of young men and women valuable life lessons, and we are better men and women today because of him.”
Another baseball player, Joey Mallon ’03, says: “He did things the right way and treated his teams as an extension of his own family. We were his kids, and for that, we played our best while doing it the right way with determination, hard work, and sportsmanship. Not only was the bond on the baseball field and hockey rink strong, he cared about us in everyday life and wanted us to be good people and do well in school. Jerry always made me feel so comfortable, like I could talk to him like I talk to my own dad, with humor and love. Even though I wasn’t a star on the teams, he treated everyone with the same respect and class.“
Coach Howell served as a guide and mentor to student-athletes and also numerous future coaches. According to his wife, Katie, he would constantly receive calls from young coaches just starting out, asking him how to meet challenges on and off the field or court or rink.
Chris Miller ’06, SSSAS ice hockey assistant coach, says: “Coach Howell left an unforgettable mark on my life, as he did for so many others. The most important expectations Coach Howell had for us were that we would be respectful children to our parents, hardworking students for our teachers, and good people for the betterment of the world around us. His influence on me is why I give back to St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School as an ice hockey coach, and his expectations remain with me as a reminder to always strive to look beyond myself.”
Mike Engelberg, former SSSAS coach and current football coach at Maret School, says: “Jerry helped teach me what it means to be a coach. He taught all of the young coaches that the responsibilities that come along with coaching go much farther than just the Xs and Os on the field. As far as specifics towards football go, no one was a better scout than Jerry. He could watch a game and tell you everything you could ever know about the team. He passed on some great tips to all of us that he had learned from Sleepy Thompson when it comes to scouting.”
In an archival interview, Coach Howell’s advice to students was this: “I guess I would say, be true to yourself. And .... be responsible for your own actions. Both of those are another way of saying, just do the right thing; we’ve been saying that for years.”
For years, decades, Coach Howell served as an important connection between the great coaches of his youth and the great players of his coaching career in almost every sport offered at the school. Coaching at SSSAS is like being a part of an extended family. Perhaps no one lived this concept more than the late Jerry Howell.