WINNIPEG - Markus Howell is trading in his pads for a whistle and his snappy suits for a pair of sweats.
Well, those sharp suits may still come out on occasion, but after announcing his retirement from the CFL earlier this month, the 36-year-old Winnipegger has joined the Blue Bombers as a defensive and special teams assistant coach.
“This is a great opportunity and a natural progression for me,” Howell told reporters at Canad Inns Stadium on Wednesday a few hours after the announcement was made. “Football has been great to me and my family. I’m fortunate. I was born and raised here, played (football), was drafted by my hometown team and played a long time here and now I’m joining the coaching staff. It’s full circle and I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
Howell isn’t sure what the future will bring, but he’s committed to the profession long-term.
“I want to progress as a coach and see where that leads me, whether it’s on the coaching side or on player personnel or the business side of athletics,” said Howell, who expressed his desire to coach at the end of last season when he played mostly on special teams for the Blue Bombers.
Howell smiled when asked what the biggest challenge in the transition was going to be.
“Probably the long hours — I’m used to those four-and-a-half hour days we negotiated in the CBA,” said Howell. “Here it’s sunup to sundown. I’m looking forward to it and I’m going to learn a lot.”
Howell’s experiences as a player should help him garner immediate respect and also help him relate.
“Definitely, I spent 11 years in the game and just left this locker room last year so I know the guys and some of the things they’ll be facing,” said Howell.
Head coach Paul LaPolice believes the professionalism Howell demonstrated as a player will serve him well as he makes the transition to coaching.
“I’ve been in this league for 10 years and Markus is one of the best pro’s I’ve encountered,” said LaPolice. “His attention to detail in everything he did and how he prepared himself and how he handled himself, there isn’t a more positive person in the locker room. I’d always thought he’d make a good coach. The positive thing for him is that he played some receiver in the league, he played some defensive back in the league and he was obviously a stalwart on special teams.
“A lot of people like making this transition, but this is not an easy transition and not everybody can make this transition because there’s a commitment to work and you have to be able to work with other people. You have to put your ego aside. But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have confidence in him. Basically, I stake my reputation on him and I would do it 100 times, because he’s a high-character guy.”
Howell was also known as a student of the game and that trait should serve him well, both in the film room and on the sidelines.
“As a player, it’s the little things and minute details,” said Howell. “Everybody has talent and you have to translate your talent into the classroom. You have to be able to study and prepare for your opponent. As a coach, you have to get your players ready, but you also have to understand what other coaches are doing, trying to beat you."