After one year away from the game, legendary high school baseball coach Bobby Howard is back.
Howard was hired as St. Anne-Pacelli’s new head baseball coach on Monday. Howard replaces Brent Benefield, who spent one season as Vikings head coach.
Howard said he'd had a few schools contact him in his one-year absence from coaching, but those positions weren't as attractive as Pacelli. Howard pointed at the work of Pacelli athletic director Corry Black and principal Ronie Collins, who answered all Howard's pressing questions and sold him on their commitment to the Vikings program.
The competitor in Howard was also drawn to the idea that building up the Pacelli baseball program is impossible.
"A lot of people said, ‘You can’t win there.’ There are a lot of excuses to why you couldn’t win, but I couldn’t come up with any valid reasons," Howard said. "After I talked to (Black and Collins), I still thought it was feasible. I started talking to some of the coaches around. It was really my belief in the leadership part and their vision as far as making improvements on the field moving forward. The commitment was there and the resources were there."
In 39 seasons as a head coach, Howard has compiled a 985-296 record in stops at Jordan Vocational High School, Kendrick High School, Columbus High School and Central-Phenix City High School. His Columbus teams captured 12 state championships in his 31 seasons at the helm.
Howard enters at Pacelli after not coaching in the 2018 season following his resignation from Central. Howard had agreed to become the new head baseball coach at Cartersville, but a misunderstanding regarding his retirement benefits led to his resignation after 36 days.
Howard was candid about the year he spent away from coaching, saying he was bored for most of it but did manage to catch a few games here and there. Howard had accepted a job as an adviser at Brigade, Tim Hudson's summer ball facility, but is debating if he will fulfill that given his new role at Pacelli.
Howard has racked up an impressive list of individual honors over his career, including the Diamond Baseball National Coach of the Year in 2000 and the ESPN High School Coach of the Year in 2012. He was a state Coach of the Year at least 11 times.
Among his many outstanding players was Frank Thomas at Columbus High. In his National Baseball Hall of Fame speech at Cooperstown, N.Y., Thomas credited Howard, saying, “You made me grow up in a hurry, and your no-nonsense approach to the game was needed at an early age. You set my foundation for life. Love you and thank you.”
Howard was inducted into Columbus State University Hall of Fame in 1998, the Georgia Dugout Club Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.
Howard said he and new Pacelli assistant coach Chase Weems, a former Columbus player and sixth round draft pick of the New Yankees who coached with Howard at Central, met with the Pacelli players Monday. Howard told his new team that everyone will have the same opportunity to prove themselves to the new coaches and that everyone's role could be different going forward. Howard also laid out some of the expectations he has for his players moving forward.
Howard said it will take some time for him to establish just how far the Pacelli program needs to go. More than anything else, the veteran coach just wants to put Pacelli baseball on the map like he's done at so many stops before.
"I know we’re going to put a quality product out there. We just want to be relevant and competitive," Howard said. "We want the product we put out there to be a student-athlete who’s not just a competitive baseball player but a well-rounded citizen."