Former Tebow coach to take over program at Columbia High

Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 11:46 p.m.

If you can't beat ’em, hire ’ em.

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New Columbia High School football coach Craig Howard, left, poses with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Florida coach Urban Meyer at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square in New York City last month. Howard coached Tebow while at Ponte Vedra Beach Nease.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun

Columbia High School has hired Ponte Vedra Beach Nease's Craig Howard to be its new football coach. He was interviewed Friday afternoon, offered the job around midnight and accepted on Saturday.

The Panthers have defeated their District 5-4A rivals four times in the last three seasons with the last three being by a combined score of 76-0. Howard has led Nease to three consecutive FHSAA state finals appearances, winning the 4A title with future Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at quarterback in 2005.

Howard said he wasn't necessarily looking to leave Nease, but the Columbia position was hard to ignore.

"(My family and I) didn't expect that kind of job would open up," said Howard, 51-7 the last four years with the Panthers. "(Former) coach (Danny) Green did a great job, and (Columbia) has a lot of tradition and a lot of talented athletes.

"I think if we do the right things, we can get the program to where it's nationally ranked, and I know big-time football is important to the people in Columbia County."

Howard said the Tigers were the most physical team Nease played in 2007 and added he is excited about coaching a loaded CHS class of 2010, led by tailback Tiger Powell.

Howard is well-known for his spread offense, and his system helped make Tebow a quick fit at UF. Columbia traditionally has run a Wing T, so there will be an adjustment period.

"I don't think it will be difficult," said Howard, whose son is a UF football walk-on and daughter is a Santa Fe Community College student. "It will be exciting more than anything. We'll run the same no-huddle swarming offense, and with the athletes we have, I'm looking forward to implementing it.

"We'll lay the foundation in spring football and we'll keep adapting. It's not a never ending process. We'll put the right guys in the right spots."

Howard said the move is comparable on a different level to the coach at Florida being hired to coach Tennessee. However, he said he is leaving Nease with no hard feelings.

In fact the school followed his recommendation and hired defensive coordinator Danny Cowgill — a Nease alum — to replace Howard.

"I am very pleased with that and know Danny will do an excellent job," Howard said. "He was very instrumental in the success we had at Nease.

"I think there's going to be a lot to talk about the next few years when the two teams play."

While Howard's tenure at Nease was mostly positive, the football program was hit by FHSAA sanctions in November of 2006 for violations of its special inducements policy. The Panthers were fined a record $20,000 and placed on six years restrictive probation after the FHSAA ruled a first-year varsity player was induced to attend the school with favors, including employment for a parent with a company owned by an assistant coach and arranging residence and rides to and from school with a second assistant coach. The penalties did not include any playoff bans.

Howard was not named in the violations, but FHSAA commissioner John Stewart said in a statement Howard admitted to an investigator he was aware of the arrangement between the two assistant coaches and the athlete's father.

The punishment didn't affect the Panthers on the field, as they played for a state championship the next month and a year later.

Howard was one of six finalists to meet with a hiring committee that included Jimmy Blanton, Rodney Crews, Adee Farmer, Skipper Hair, Terry Hunter, Alan Moody, Dr. Tommy Randolph, Ron Williams and the Rev. Isadore Williams. He was unanimously recommended to be hired.

Howard said he hopes to meet with his new team and Tiger fans soon.

"Every Friday night everybody is a Tiger over there," said Howard, who expects to "be up and running" at CHS by Feb. 1. "A lot of schools don't have that because the interests are divided between schools. Not at (Columbia) and that's a pretty exciting proposition."

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