O.C. All-Star Game a Father-Son Affair
There is more to Friday’s North-South all-star football game than blocking and tackling.
There also will be an ending . . . and a beginning.
Patrolling the north sideline at Orange Coast College will be Coach Jim Howell, and his son, defensive coordinator Toby Howell.
It will be the last time they will work together. Jim Howell announced his retirement this spring after 32 years of coaching, the last 17 at Western. Toby was named to replace him.
Replacing his father, who is credited with turning Orange League doormat Western into a dominant team, would be difficult enough. But Toby Howell has the added weight of Jim Howell’s presence as athletic director, which could make someone think Toby’s path to the coaching job was quick and easy.
Pose the question and Toby Howell, 26, is quick to point out his own Western heritage.
He played tight end and defensive end for his father’s 1986-87 teams. He continued playing football at Fullerton College, but when he got to Long Beach State, the program was discontinued. So he played rugby and concentrated on getting his degree and teaching credential.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach,” Toby Howell said. “It’s in the blood. I’m the son most like him as far as interests, particularly football.”
Toby Howell worked for his father four years, starting as the scout team coach and working his way up to defensive coordinator.
Toby Howell’s only advantage was the constant turnover of coaches at Western. The school can’t pay much for assistants and depends heavily on alums and walk-ons, so Toby learned how to teach offense and defense.
“Those people who think I got the job because of nepotism don’t know my dad,” he said. “I had to prove myself to him as a player. I also had to prove I was the best man as a coach.”
Toby Howell said his father, who had talked about retiring on other occasions, could have kept coaching at Western as long as he wanted. “I know he was getting to the point where he tired of the day-to-day grind.”
Whoever was going to replace Jim Howell--whose resume includes 99 victories, 11 playoff appearances in the last 14 seasons, four league championships (including last season) and two Division V semifinal appearances in the last three seasons--would have a difficult task.
“I expect people here will want the same things Dad did, so there is pressure,” Toby Howell said. “But I’m glad people are now expecting us to win, instead of when he first took over and they expected us to lose.
“He got the program turned around. I want to continue that.”
Jim Howell left the program in good shape. Although the Pioneers lost several key players to graduation, including offensive leaders and North all-stars Dean Chambers, David Bell and Vince Bransetter, the junior varsity and freshman teams were undefeated last season.
They will provide Toby Howell with his first important player personnel decisions. “We’ve already lost five or six of our best freshmen,” he said. “We had a decent JV club, but I didn’t plan to bring up many sophomores; we like to keep teams intact unless a guy really stands out.”
Those decisions have to wait, anyway. Friday’s game is the main agenda item.
It would mean a great deal to him to send his father out a winner.
“Our last win was his 99th win at Western. When we lost to El Toro [in the playoffs] I felt bad because our defense gave up so many points,” Toby Howell said. “I want to get him this last victory.
“He’s preparing the same way he always does. We go over plans daily as a staff, watch a lot of films of what we think their offense does and will do. He makes out practice plans. He’s treating that game no differently than he would any other. But believe me, it’s a big game.”
* Event: The 37th North-South all-star game.
* When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
* Where: Orange Coast College.
* Tickets: Pre-sale tickets are $6 and can be purchased from the Brea Lions Club, PADRE Foundation, Western Youth Services, or players and coaches. Tickets bought at the gate the day of the game are $7.
* For more information: (714) 529-3861.