Aug. 10, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Jason Howell learned about destiny and what it takes to get to Omaha as an ACC coach, at North Carolina.
His latest adventure with destiny helped land him another coaching job in the ACC as pitching coach for Georgia Tech baseball.
He believes the defending ACC Champion Yellow Jackets have what it takes to get him another trip to Omaha.
Howell, who played college ball at North Carolina then coached there and most recently at UNC-Wilmington, welcomes the opportunity to return home to the ACC.
“There’s no league like it. I’m excited to be back in familiar territory and traveling and getting back close to home,” said the 33-year-old Millers Creek, N.C., native. “A lot of coaches are the same, coaches that I’ve played with or against. So it’s definitely exciting.”
One of those coaches he played against is Georgia Tech assistant coach Bryan Prince, who was a key player in getting Howell into the mix for the job.
Prince texted Howell that the job was available while Howell was at a USA Baseball Tournament — North Carolina pitching coach Scott Forbes also texted Howell about the opening — then called Coach Hall.
Howell and Prince were hardly strangers.
“We were in the ACC at the same time, then, when he was here I was at Chapel Hill, both as volunteer [coaches],” Howell recalled. “I believe, also, he was with the Reds I was with the Red Sox in their organization. He was in Sarasota, I was in Fort Myers, so we were always kind of parallel. Both of our releases came at the same time. We both got right back into coaching. I think both of us sort of knew that was what we wanted to do.”
By the time Prince called, Hall had already found Howell’s bio, which was among the first he’d found in his Internet research for candidates. Shortly after Prince’s call, Hall received an e-mail from Howell expressing his interest.
While fate made Howell the favorite, it wasn’t the deciding factor in his getting the job.
“I just liked his pedigree,” said Hall. “I liked that he had grown up in the Southeast, grown up in North Carolina, I liked the fact that he finished his college career at North Carolina, as kind of a pitcher and a position player. It felt like a guy that could not only develop our pitchers, but he’s done everything that our pitchers are trying to do, which is compete at a high level in the ACC, and hopefully get a chance to pitch in professional baseball. He’d been involved in some great programs. So I felt like he was the right guy for our situation. I was looking for somebody that could develop pitchers and recruit them.”
Howell played most of his career at Appalachian State, but concluded his career in grand style with the Tar Heels in 2001. He was named second-team All-ACC, going 6-2 with four saves while also hitting .350 with 13 doubles and 29 RBIs. After college, he played four years in the Red Sox organization, going a combined 28-14 with 23 saves and 3.86 ERA.
Upon the end of his playing career and a summer coaching in an Ohio collegiate summer league, he returned to Chapel Hill, where he worked as first base coach and assistant to Forbes. He was on teams that reached back-to-back College World Series championship games, in 2007 and 2008.
Howell left Chapel Hill for Wilmington, where he became full-time pitching coach. Under his watch, the Seahawks’ fielded one of the top staffs in the Colonial Athletic Association and, in 2012, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
He’ll inherit a Yellow Jackets staff that was 10th in the ACC in ERA (4.42), and runs allowed per game (5.17), but also showed a lot of grit and versatility, as injuries led to 11 different starting pitchers.
Howell knows what the numbers say but also what he saw at the end of the season.
“Kind of watching them progress through the second half, what they were able to do offensively and having a pitching staff that kept them in their games. It was fun to watch,” he said. “It tells you a lot about character, it tells you a lot about coaching, it tells you a lot about what kind of players they were.”
Howell gets several injured arms back, as well as a hungry Friday night starter Buck Farmer, who chose to return for his senior year (he’d been drafted in the 15th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2012 First Year Player Draft). He’ll count on Farmer as a liaison but looks forward to getting know his charges, including several talented incoming freshmen.
“I think the fall will be really feeling everyone out,” he said. “Guys have had their roles in the past and, like with any club, that stuff is always subject to change. I think everything is wide open and available.”
Howell also is looking forward to what he considers a wide-open competition for talent in the state of Georgia.
“When we were at Chapel Hill, we went to Omaha with North Carolina guys,” he said. “The state of Georgia, baseball-wise, is second to none. I think you go after the guys in your state and then you fill in with what you need to fill in. We can go to Omaha and win a national championship with the guys here in Georgia.”
Howell’s ability to seal the deal with recruits pretty much sealed the deal with Hall.
“He’d been in Atlanta recruiting with all these Perfect Game tournaments that come in here, so he knows the landscape, knows the ACC really well,” said Hall. “We had some great candidates but I thought he was the best guy for the position. The other thing that caught my eye, he was Academic All-ACC. We have to recruit a pretty high-caliber student as well as good baseball players. I think he speaks well to that.”