Believe it or not, he has a name. It’s Leonard Howard, not that he frequently goes by Leonard or Coach Howard around the Brookwood High School campus.
To most around the Snellville school, he’s “Coach Buffalo.”
“A lot of people around here who have known me for 10 or 15 years think that’s my real name,” said Howard, who is retiring this month after 20 years with the Broncos. “They’ll see me at a restaurant with my wife and say, ‘Hello, Coach Buffalo. Hello, Mrs. Buffalo.’ And my wife does not like to be called Mrs. Buffalo.”
Howard got the “Buffalo” nickname back in college, when he was a noseguard and kickoff wedge-buster at Presbyterian College, from his teammates after they watched the 1978 movie, “Buffalo Rider,” about a cowboy who rode a buffalo instead of horse. It stuck for his final few years of college, but disappeared for 11 years when he started his coaching career at Druid Hills.
But the day he interviewed for a job at Brookwood back in 1991, it returned for good. Longtime Greater Atlanta Christian coach Jimmy Chupp, then an assistant principal at Brookwood, greeted him with a yell of “Buffalo.” The two knew each other from high school and college.
“He’s always just been ‘Coach Buffalo’ to everybody here,” Bronco head football coach Mark Crews said.
Over the years, Howard has brought much more than a unique nickname to the football program. Though the 54-year-old hasn’t coached on the field since the mid-1990s, few people play a bigger role than he does.
His football job title is officially administrative assistant, but he’s pretty much a director of football operations on the high school level. He works out all the details — from travel to game preparation to equipment — so the Broncos’ on-field coaches can focus on football.
“You think about replacing (Howard), and it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s going to take a couple of different people to do his job,’” Crews said. “He does the travel, the buses, the food, the field set-up. He handles and orders all of our equipment. He does a little bit of everything. It’s hard to replace a guy who’s been doing that for 20 years.”
It literally is going to take more than one person to fill that void. Daniel Bowles will pick up the field duty role. David Lockwood will take over the equipment. Trainer Jay Pearson and some other coaches will have to fill in here and there.
Someone also must fill his role as an accomplished social studies teacher who has proudly taught a contemporary issues news class for years (basketball coach Scott Terry will man that job). At least Terry has done that job before — he filled in for Howard in his class one semester — but nobody has handled his football duties before.
The administrative assistant job wasn’t even created at Brookwood until he took it to help then head coach/athletic director Dave Hunter.
“Once you do the job, it kind of becomes second nature,” Howard said. “Some days I have an important position and some days I’m the head peon. Neither hat bothers me. ... Really I just try to take the pressure off the other coaches and do whatever job needs to be done.”
Howard and his wife Susan, whose Shiloh grad daughters both work in the medical field, recently moved to Cumming to be near Susan’s mother. That distance factored into his difficult decision to retire from Brookwood. He still plans to work in education, initially as a substitute and possibly later as a part-timer, ideally something closer to Cumming. He knows he won’t be as busy as usual this fall, his first in 42 years where he isn’t involved with football.
Brookwood football won’t be the same without him, either, but he is leaving lists of what he does at certain events (Thursday games, Friday games, TV/radio games, Corky Kell Classic, media day, etc.) for his replacements. And he plans to still make appearances at Bronco games to visit old friends, who will likely call him “Coach Buffalo.”
“It’s tough to leave when you love what you do with football and in the classroom,” Howard said. “Brookwood’s a great place. We’ve got incredible administrators here, great coaches, great students, a great football situation. With what I do for a living, you can’t beat this place.”
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.