John Howard and his family came to Independence in 2014 when he became the new principal at Independence Junior/Senior High School. Prior to the move to Independence, Howard spent time at four other schools as a teacher and a principal. Did you know that Mr. Howard was also a coach in several sports, which included a stint as a head coach for boys’ basketball? During his tenure as a head coach, Howard led two teams to a state tournament berth.
A 1992 graduate of Knoxville High School, he played football, basketball, and golf. Howard was all-conference in golf his senior year. He was also academic all-state in football. Howard also won the prestigious Bernie Saggau Award in 1992. If this sounds familiar, the Independence Bulletin Journal ran an article last year about John’s son, Kaden, who also won the Bernie Saggau Award as a senior in 2019.
“I was very proud of and for Kaden to win the Bernie Saggau Award last year,” Howard said. “It was great recognition for his attitude, commitment, enthusiasm, and leadership. I would guess not too many fathers and sons have won the award.”
(The Bernie Saggau Award honors a student who best exemplifies a patriotic spirit, strong religious and moral convictions, living and professing qualities of honesty, integrity, and sportsmanship; believing that both games and life should be conducted by the rules.)
Following high school, Howard attended the University of Iowa and transferred to Central College in Pella his second year. At Central, he played golf and, during his junior year, was a seventh grade boys’ assistant basketball coach. In his senior year, Howard was an assistant varsity football coach in Knoxville, along with his assistant seventh grade boys’ basketball duties. This is where he got his first experience in coaching.
Howard graduated from Central College in 1996 with a B.A. in political science and a minor in Spanish. John became a teacher at Essex Community School District, where he also was the assistant boys’ basketball coach. A year later, Howard headed to Lynnville-Sully Community School District to teach Spanish and social studies. He was there for 10 years.
During that time, Howard was an assistant coach in football for nine years and an assistant coach for boys’ basketball for three years. Howard also was the head boys’ and girls’ golf coach for seven years. He became the head boys’ basketball coach at Lynnville-Sully in 2001, taking over a team that had gone to the state tournament the two previous years.
In Howard’s first year, his team went to state (2002). According to Howard, it was not an easy accomplishment.
“We had a stretch of going three years in a row. It was not an “easy” year. At one time, we were 10-5, and five losses was the most for Lynnville-Sully basketball in seven or eight years. Needless to say, it was stressful,” said Howard. “However, we ran off 10 wins in a row and made it to state.”
In the district final that year, Lynnville-Sully played North Mahaska (their arch rival), who had a player by the name of Grant Stout. Yes, that was the same Grant Stout who would go on to a be a star at UNI.
Howard said, “We beat them by three, and then beat Moravia pretty handily in the substate final.”
Lynnville-Sully secured the six seed and played Sumner-Fredericksburg in the first round. They had a point guard by the name of Jason Steege (now an assistant at Wartburg).
Howard said, “We had a chance to tie on the last possession, but we missed the shot, had to foul, and lost by three.”
Sumner-Fredericksburg was the runner-up that year.
In 2005, Howard took his second team to the state tournament. This team was completely different from any other team that had gone to state in the past. Howard said that this team was his favorite.
He said, “We were not too good. We had lost four senior starters from the previous year, so we did not have much experience. But we got progressively better as the year went on. We lost our last regular season game and went into the tournament with a losing record (10-11).”
Lynnville-Sully hosted the first two rounds of district play and won them both.
Howard said, “We then beat Madrid in the district final at Nevada. Then we beat a really good Guthrie Center team in the substate final at Urbandale.”
They went into the state tournament with a 14-11 record as an eight seed. Lynnville-Sully lost in the first round to Iowa Mennonite.
So, in a six-year span, Howard went to state twice as an assistant coach and twice as a head coach.
Howard was also an excellent golf coach who took three golf teams to state at Lynnville-Sully – the 2004 boys’ and the 2006 and 2007 girls’ teams. He also coached individual boys’ state qualifiers in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Howard’s first principal job took him to Kingsley-Pierson Community School District in 2007. He continued to coach boys’ basketball and was the head coach for one year.
This was the end of Howard’s coaching career, because his administrative duties took up too much of his time.
In 2009, Howard took the principal position at St. Edmond’s Catholic School. He was there for five years until he came to Independence. He and his wife, Duana, have three kids – the aforementioned Kaden, 19, a freshman at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake; Kellen, 15, a high school sophomore; and daughter Karlyn, a fifth grader.
In his free time, Mr. Howard likes to play golf, lift weights, and run. He’s also a basketball referee and a baseball/softball umpire.
When asked if it was difficult to give up coaching, Howard’s answer was – yes, and no.
“I certainly miss the game of basketball, at that level, but with my administrative duties, it is just not possible.”
So, instead of coaching basketball, Howard now teaches kids how to be successful and how to be a better person off the court. And game day preparation is for something far more important than basketball.