Former Lake Dallas head coach Ryan Howard, who announced a move to Coppell Monday to assume the same role for the 6A Cowboys, called the decision the toughest of his coaching career.
While the Falcons made their best-ever postseason run under Howard this spring, leaning on a group of senior leaders to make an appearance in the regional semifinals, the departure of the class of 2019 didn’t bring with it a clean place to depart.
In fact, it was quite the opposite for the third-year skipper, who said he feels the Falcons are set up for continued success behind returners with postseason experience and younger players that will now get a chance to shine.
“The senior class that’s coming in is the class that came into Lake Dallas High School with me. The biggest thing as a coach – and I think any coach is going to tell you this – the No. 1 thing you need to do to be successful is build relationships,” he said. “The relationships I have with not just the incoming seniors in the 2020 class, but the players that are in the ’21 and ’22 class. … A lot of time was put into them.”
Instead, the move was brought on by the presence of the opportunity to take over one of the area’s – and arguably the state’s – premier programs, a chance that Howard feels is right for both him and for his family. When former coach Kendall Clark vacated the position earlier this year, Howard submitted his resume and engaged in a lengthy interview process that, as it wore on, left him increasingly confident that he was the right man for the job.
Lofty expectations come alongside that year-in, year-out success, though Howard said there isn’t anyone in his new stomping grounds that could expect more of him than he does of himself.
“There are high expectations from the school district and from the community and from the players, [but] the expectations that I put on myself as a coach are going to higher than anybody else is going to be able to put on me, to begin with,” he said. “I’m driven, and I attack every single day and every single season to go win a state championship, and that’s not going to change [based on] where I’m at.”
All isn’t sunshine and roses in Coppell as of late, however – though the Cowboys have advanced to the postseason in each of the last 15 springs, the program hasn’t appeared in a regional final since 1995, nearly 25 years ago, and hasn’t shown its face in the fourth round since 2016. Prior to that, the Cowboys went eight years without a regional semifinal appearance.
Howard said engineering a postseason run to the fifth round and beyond is something he can’t guarantee, though he feels confident in the process he’ll bring to the perennial contender, which he summed up by a commitment to never being outworked and to the mindset that “champions are built before championships are won.”
“I’m a big believer in focusing on what I can control, and what I can’t control are wins and losses in the spring of 2020, right now. What I can control is showing up every day and being the best coach and the best leader that I can possibly be,” he said. “That’s kind of how I’m going to approach this. … We’re going to be where our feet are, and we’re going to try to be the best players and the best athletes and the best students that we can be every single day and try to make that a habit for us.”
The programs may play in different classifications, but that hasn’t prevented Howard from finding similarities between the two jobs. Both “one-horse towns,” the former Falcon bench boss believes his time in green and white has equipped him to handle the jump to another program with heavy buy-in from the surrounding community.
Howard’s first step as head coach at Coppell was to take part in the Cowboys’ annual camp this week, which he said has helped him engage with the baseball community in the city at all levels. He’s also in the process of interviewing for his stable of assistants and expressed a desire to find the best coaches and leaders available for his players, regardless of where they come from.
More than anything, though, Howard said he’s grateful for both the Lake Dallas community and the opportunity for growth Lake Dallas and its administration provided him as he got his head-coaching career off the ground.
“[Athletic director Scott Head and assistant athletic director Michael Young] were guys that, going in as a new head coach, they let me run my program and they let me do things that I believed should be done,” he said. “But they were also there for me to bounce a lot of things off of. They were the perfect setup for me coming in.”
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