Stick a tape recorder in front of Bob Howard a few times and certain things become crystal clear: One, he'd probably prefer a visit to the proctologist over answering the same scripted questions week after week and, two, the man knows football like you and I know the back of our hands.
Howard, in his sixth year at Webster City and 36th overall on the sidelines, isn't a cuddly teddy bear. Then again, name me a football coach that fits that description? His professional narrative isn't difficult to decipher though. Simply put, Howard is a winner.
Clear Lake head coach Fred Wieck fits into that football fraternity as well. When he puts his boys on the field against yours, well, good luck. The odds are not in your favor.
DFJ photo by Troy Banning
Webster City head coach Bob Howard is tied for 13th all-time on Iowa's career wins list with 287.
The combined football knowledge the two men possess would make most opposing coaches blush, right before they ran to the nearest receptacle to relieve their stomachs of their lunch. Howard and Wieck live the game. They breathe the game. And whether you know it or not, oftentimes they are the game.
The calls they make, the schemes they diagram, the attitudes they exude - those things are just as important as what happens between the lines.
And they meet face to face again tonight.
With a combined 539 career victories and five state championships, Howard and Wieck will lead their respective charges onto the pristine grass at Lynx Field in an attempt to gain the upper-hand in the race for the Class 3A District 3 crown. Howard has his Webster City team in the driver's seat at 3-0, while Wieck's Clear Lake squad is 1-1 after stumbling last week at Humboldt - the program's first district setback in nearly five years.
Yeah, you read that right.
The coaches know what's at stake, and they also understand how difficult it is to beat the other.
"It's always a little intimidating, to be honest, when you have to go up against Bob because of all of his experience, success and state titles," Wieck said. "But it's also a lot of fun because of the old North Central Conference rivalry, and now that both teams are pretty good it just adds to the atmosphere."
How intimidated Wieck is by Howard is up for debate. Clear Lake has beaten Webster City 13 consecutive times, the last four under Howard's watch, including last year's 28-27 thriller when the Lions were ranked No. 1 in the state and the Lynx No. 2. Yes, Howard ranks 13th on Iowa's all-time wins list with 287 and he's one of only 16 coaches with at least three state titles that he won at Class 2A Sigourney-Keota in 1995, 2001 and 2005, but it's not like Wieck is a second-class citizen. He's pocketed 252 victories - tied for 16th all-time - and he's got rings from two schools, first at Class A Green Mountain Garwin in 1987 and then at Clear Lake in 2000.
"You don't win that many games and have a program like that without being a great coach and having a great coaching staff," Howard, an Iowa High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame member, said of Wieck's success. "I had some great games with (legendary Pekin head coach) Tom Stone when I was at Sigourney-Keota where it was kind of the same thing, but I beat him once in a while and it's about time we beat (Clear Lake). That's where I'm at with it."
Howard is bluffing just a little bit. His ability to change the football climate at Webster City in a short period of time has been nothing short of remarkable. The Lynx had two winning seasons in the 10 years prior to his arrival; he pushed the program to three and four playoff appearances in his first five falls, including a 21-5 mark over the last 2 1/2 years.
And the once empty bleachers are now rocking on Friday nights.
"I didn't really know Bob until he came to Webster City and he's been a definite plus to the area," Wieck said. "I'm not so crazy about Webster City getting back to where they used to be (the Lynx strolled to 27 winning seasons in 28 years from 1969 to 1996), but it's fun to have good competitors."
The secret to their Nintendo-like success is anybody's guess. I tend to think their ability to motivate is the key ingredient to the secret concoction.
Howard's players speak of him with reverence. Most, if not all of them, would take up ballet and memorize the dialogue of every episode of "Glee" if he said that's what it would take to improve.
I'm not around Wieck and his program enough to offer any tangible insight, but it can't be much different.
"Getting kids to play hard, that's the No. 1 thing," Wieck said. "I think some people would say (the better coaches) have the better kids, but it's more than that. The kids have to believe in their coaches and they've got to go hard."
Come out to Lynx Field tonight and you'll see that first-hand. You'll also see a chess match between two of the greatest prep football coaching minds this state has ever produced.
One thing is certain: It's going to be fun.