by Kent Sterling
For 19 years, Todd Howard knew his purpose – to lead an ever-evolving group of young men toward adulthood by instilling the lessons that basketball teaches so well.
For the past three years, Howard served as the men’s basketball coach for IUPUI in Indianapolis. The team that punched a single ticket in its history to the NCAA D-1 Tournament in 2003 when he served as an assistant had not flourished recently. In each of the last two seasons, IUPUI won six games.
It doesn’t make Howard’s removal any less difficult for him that the decision was justifiable – at least on paper. Getting fired is tough, especially after 19 years at the same place.
Change usually brings change, and when IUPUI announced that they would become tenants at the newly renovated Indiana State Fairgrounds Pepsi Coliseum beginning next season, the writing was on the wall for Howard’s dismissal.
Schools don’t stick with the status quo when bouncing from a 1,215 seat gymnasium to an 8,200 arena – not when the coach in question has a 26-70 record.
Nice guys don’t always finish last, but they get fired when they need to fill 6,985 additional without a track record of winning.
Most people, even fans of IUPUI basketball, probably read the news and said, “Well, of course they fired him.” That didn’t make it any easier for Howard to get up this morning without any kids to coach, and there should be a portion of our hearts carved out for that kind of well-reasoned empathy.
Adversity makes us stronger, and Howard will wake up one morning soon with his sense of purpose renewed. It might have been this morning, but more likely it will come in a few weeks. He will be wiser for the experience.
In the meantime, he can think about the positive effect he had on so many young men. In the end, it’s our relationships that matter – the lessons that stick with some of those we lead. Those thoughts will help distract Howard from the disappointment of being told that the university to which he gave so much had enough of what he offered.
So IUPUI will search for a new coach, who will be the next one to be fired. That’s the lifecycle of a coach. Get hired, win some, lose some, teach all, and get fired. It’s true for icons and grinders and winners and losers alike. Few escape.
That doesn’t make any of it less pailful today for Todd Howard.