Ex-ECU Pirate Howell takes football reins at Riverside

Mar. 28, 2014 @ 08:21 PM

Middle school students and their parents need to know that Hillside and Southern aren’t the only high schools around here with good football, Riverside’s Chris Howell said after being introduced as the Pirates’ new coach on Friday.

“I’ve never been a head coach,” Howell said after the press conference in Riverside’s media center. “I’ve always been an assistant coach.”

But Howell said all the time he’s spent helping other coaches build their programs has prepared him to pick up where former Riverside coach David Hackney left off.

Hackney last season got Riverside into the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Riverside went 8-4 in 2013. The Pirates’ season ended in the first round of the playoffs, losing 20-17 at home to South View, out of Hope Mills.

After the season, Hackney moved on to become an assistant principal at Southern.

Durham Public Schools does not allow its principals and assistant principals coach within the school system because it would interfere with their duties as administrators, DPS athletics director Larry McDonald said.

Howell, 35, said he has been an assistant coach at Hillside, Southern and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.

For the past three years, Howell has been at Riverside, where last season he was the defensive coordinator and worked specifically with the team’s outside linebackers.

Now Howell gets to run the whole show.

“I’m a manager type. I’m not a micromanager,” Howell said.

Mark Morgan, who coached Riverside’s inside linebackers, has been elevated to defensive coordinator, Howell said.

Howell said he’ll need to round out his staff by adding some coaches to fill in vacancies.

“We’re going to change up some things, because I’ve got to be me,” Howell said. “We’re going to change a couple of things.”

Riverside will remain committed to running the football, Howell said. He said that goes along with his aggressive approach to the game. It’s going to be about the Pirates imposing a great deal of physicality on their opponents, Howell said.

“I’m thinking about old-school, power, running the football down, aggression, making you love to run the football,” Howell said.

A good bit of Riverside’s success a year ago was keyed by 2,474 yards that Pirates’ senior running back Joel Evans piled up, establishing a single-season school record.

Evans, short and powerful, was the top running back in the PAC-6 and may suit up for Duke as a preferred walk-on, Howell said.

“He’s got the grades to potentially go anywhere he wants to go,” Howell said.

Cameron Roane roamed Riverside’s secondary as a senior last season and is headed to play football at Columbia University in New York.

And Howell said that’s the point he’s trying to get across — football players at Riverside are playing at the next level.

“That’s what I’m really fighting for and (what) I really want to see,” Howell said.

Riverside athletics director Margratha Chambers said there were coaching candidates outside of the school but selecting Howell made sense from a continuity standpoint.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Chambers said. “The kids know him. He’s on staff here, so that was a big plus.”

At Riverside, Howell teaches math and special-education classes.

“Coach Hackney did a good job this past year,” Chambers said. “It was building and building, and this year the guys really, I guess, bought in to what he had, and they did a marvelous job.”

Howell is the guy who can keep it going, Hackney said.

“Coach Howell is a really good communicator and has a vast knowledge of the game,” Hackney said. “I wish him and Pirate Football Nation much success.”

Hackney laid a good foundation at Riverside, and it’s time to build on that, Howell said.

“We were not good for a while,” Howell said. “Now we’ve got to change from being competitive to winning, and that’s creating a culture of competition.

“We have to compete.”

Howell is from Greenville, where he played at Rose High School before joining the defensive line at East Carolina.

At ECU, Howell was a teammate of future NFL quarterback David Garrard, a Southern product. Steve Logan was their coach at ECU.