Cuz I’ve been thinking about life
And how nothing can escape the governing of God
Still somehow that just doesn’t comfort me tonight
I still need to hear your voice
We expect an awful lot from our football coaches these days.
Go to visit a high school head football coach on a typical day, and you’ll likely find him washing uniforms, painting the field or cutting grass. He might also be breaking down film, visiting his left tackle in the training room or possibly speaking at a UMW luncheon.
In the midst of all that, coaches are expected to go out and represent the community on the field. Ultimately, we judge them too often on wins and losses.
I say “too often” because coaches — especially at the high school level — are teachers first and foremost. Their job is to teach the fundamentals of defending the zone-read, sure. But they have a larger job than that: to turn boys into men, teach people about realities of life that can come from sports, maybe even give a couple of boys a chance to escape their circumstances by giving them a shot at college.
And that’s really why Keith Howard’s passing from Lincoln High School is so tragic.
The raw numbers for Howard’s tenure — unfairly cut short last Friday when the LHS head coach (and former head coach at Ragland) experienced chest pains and died on the way to Riverview Hospital in Gadsden — are pretty impressive as a head coach: eight full seasons, 60 wins, five trips to the playoffs, a handful of “County Coach of the Year” honors. Don’t know if that qualifies as one of the state’s best, or a future Hall of Famer, or whatever.
To speculate about that kind of thing, however, misses the point. It doesn’t cover the number of kids whose lives he impacted during his time as an assistant and a head man. It doesn’t cover the amount of hours he spent teaching those students about more than just football.
And it certainly doesn’t cover what Keith Howard meant to Lincoln, or what Lincoln meant to him.
It’s hard to say with any authority that I really knew Keith Howard — he and I were friendly (was there anybody who wasn’t friendly with the man, other than maybe a few referees?) during my time in the area, but it’s unfair to say I really knew the man.
You didn’t have to know him very well, though, to know how much his community meant to him. A Lincoln native, he spoke often of how he was living his dream as head coach at LHS.
In what would be his last full season as LHS head coach, the Golden Bears rose to No. 1 in the state with 11 straight victories. They played in front of packed houses every Friday. They mattered.
And it was evident how much that meant to Howard — not just being successful, but being successful at Lincoln, mattered so much to that man. I hope, when my Maker calls me home, people will say I loved my job as much as Keith Howard obviously loved his.
That affection was reciprocated, and it was equally as obvious. His community loved him, his assistants loved him and every kid whose life he ever affected loved him. I have no idea how any of them will go forward this week.
But I do know at least one person who will be cheering them.