The story of Kyle Howell‘s odyssey is one of a veteran journeyman, yet he is only 33 years old, a young prodigy in athletic coaching and administration.
He has taken on 10 meaningful job titles In a span of only 11 years since earning his sports administration and management degree with a minor in kinesiology from Southwest Baptist in 2010.
He is accustomed to traveling, born in Hawaii and first playing collegiately for Division I baseball program Wagner in Staten Island, N.Y., before using his last three years of eligibility at Southwest Baptist in Bolivar, Mo.
His journey now includes winning a state title Monday as Sabino’s softball coach in his first year.
A few hours later, he was in Tempe celebrating the Sabercats’ baseball championship as the school’s athletic director.
“Not the route I would have envisioned but it’s been a lot of fun,” Howell said, reflecting on where he started in his professional life up to now at Sabino.
Only six months after concluding his baseball career at Southwest Baptist, Howell became a minor-league strength and conditioning coach with the Washington Nationals, an immediate sign he could take on major roles.
“I had some conversations with scouts about how to get into the game, and Washington told me that after I finish my kinesiology degree that I should get my strength and conditioning stuff and come work for them,” he said. “I ended up going and got a job in spring training. When I got there, I was the only strength guy with a baseball background.”
That led to him throwing batting practice during the Nationals’ big-league spring training camp and coaching first base at Class A Hagerstown (Md.) his first season.
“I got to sit in some of the meeting rooms and be around hitters, and at the end of the year, we had a conversation about me moving into a full-time coaching role,” Howell said. “I was not a player, so it wasn’t ever going to be anything where I can move up, I thought. I decided at that point, it’s best to get out of pro ball and go the college route.”
He moved to El Paso in October 2011 for an opportunity to be the director of baseball operations with the El Paso Border Youth Association, a new business that selected players and trained them in a 3,000-square foot indoor facility. The players competed in elite national events and all 14 high school seniors in his first year there received college baseball scholarships. Two were major-league draft picks.
That experience opened the opportunity to become El Paso Community College’s recruiting coordinator in 2012-13 and part of the 2013-14 school year. He recruited and coached two major-league draft picks and 13 of his players signed with NCAA Division I programs in his three semesters at the school.
It was in El Paso that he met his wife Kassie, an educator.
“Her folks and her entire family is from El Paso, so when looking at what we were going to do down the road, we looked at moving to either Arizona or Dallas,” Howell said.
He and his wife were starting a family when in 2014 he became the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at the College of Ozarks, an NAIA program in Point Lookout, Mo. After only one season in the Ozarks, he became the associate head coach at Hesston (Kan.) Junior College. A year later, he took over the head coaching role.
His networking with major-league scouts from his time with the Nationals landed him an area scouting position with the Boston Red Sox when he went to Hesston in the 2014-15 school year.
“As a junior college coach, we played (NCAA) Division I and II programs in the fall and then I was recruiting high school kids, so it was kind of the perfect thing for the Red Sox,” Howell said. “They would try to latch on to junior college coaches and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to see both ends of the spectrum.'”
Since moving to Tucson in May 2018, Howell has worked with the Detroit Tigers as an area scout, keeping a watchful eye on some of the local talent when presented the opportunity.
His time at Hesston was highly successful, guiding that program to the 2016 NJCAA Region VI championship, earning region coach of the year honors. He coached 35 players to universities during his four years at Hesston, including 14 after the 2016 season. Seven of his players signed with Division 1 programs, the most in school history.
Howell became endeared by his Hesston players, who related well to him because of the lack of age disparity.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play baseball after high school but after being with this team I found my passion for the game again,” David Ryan, one of his players, told the Hesston College Horizon.
With such success at Hesston, and much respect from his players there — it was reported that a mass exodus might occur with his departure — what made Howell, 30 at the time, decide to leave coaching?
Kyle Rinehart, another of his players, said, “It’s a lot of money for me to come here and not play for Coach Howell. He was a huge factor for why I decided to come here.”
Howell and his wife decided to make a move in the best interest of their young family, which includes daughters Khloe (9 years old) and Kelsea (6) and son Kannon (4).
“We wanted to be close enough to family (in El Paso) so we could be around,” Howell said. “My wife and I always agreed that when our kids got older, that we’d find something where I was not on the road for 250 days a year.
“I had other opportunities to coach college baseball and benefit financially, but it came down to not wanting to be away from my family for a long time.”
St. Augustine Catholic High School, in its sixth year of existence at the time in 2018, posted an opening for its first athletic director position.
Howell noticed the opening online while at Hesston and applied. He also submitted an application to UCLA for an assistant athletic director position just in case the Bruins’ administration might bite.
“St. Augustine was the only one that called,” Howell said. “They asked for an interview. We were visiting my wife’s family at El Paso at the time, so my wife and I drove to Tucson for the first time.
“They told me they wanted to model what Salpointe does on a smaller scale. They didn’t want to change who they were academically or the size of their program. They wanted to attract more athletic-minded students.”
Howell and his family moved to Tucson shortly thereafter and he started to make an immediate impact with St. Augustine, negotiating a deal with Nike to outfit the athletic teams and trying to attract coaches with college athletic backgrounds.
After more than a year at St. Augustine, which has an enrollment of less than 200, Howell said he became enticed with the athletic director opening at Sabino after Jay Campos was hired at Mica Mountain High School to be the assistant principal of interscholastics at that brand new school.
“I was like, ‘Okay, what’s next? I’ve enjoyed this time at St. Augustine. It’s been fun. But is there something that will mimic the college experience for me?'” Howell said.
Colleagues of his with TUSD and administrators in Vail, because of his wife’s connections teaching there, all suggested going after the Sabino position.
He was hired at Sabino in late January 2020 after first consulting with St. Augustine president Dave Keller.
“He said, ‘Go for it. It speaks volumes for what we’ve done here,'” Howell said.
Becoming Sabino’s athletic director is Howell’s ninth different job title in the last 11 years.
The 10th occupation: becoming the Sabercats’ head softball coach this school year.
Vanessa Arandules, who replaced the retiring Christine Stainer as head coach last year, left to Scottsdale Community College before this school year to be an assistant coach. She is on the coaching staff of head coach Sabeano Romero, who was Arandules’ assistant last year with the Sabercats.
Stainer retired after coaching Sabino to a state title in 2019 and Arandules coached the Sabercats in only four games last spring because of COVID-19.
With his hire as athletic director at Sabino, Howell is required by TUSD to coach a team. He coached the junior varsity softball team last spring and also served as a hitting instructor for the varsity team in the brief amount of time the program was together before the pandemic hit.
“The head coaching job at Sabino is something I never would have considered,” Howell said. “But when the kids asked after I got to do some hitting work with them if I would think of becoming the head coach, I decided to do it and got the blessing of the district AD (Herman House at the time).”
— Kyle Howell (@CoachHowell33) May 18, 2021
Howell made it a priority to hire Cyndi Cubillas to be part of his staff to help him with the transition. Cubillas is a coach in the AZ Cats youth softball organization in Tucson. A former Salpointe standout under Phil Gruensfelder, she also has an extensive coaching background at Arizona Western and Adams State.
“She was a college coach and the former staff knew her,” Howell said. “I asked her to come coach pitchers and catchers and told her we were going to run it like a college program and I was going to stay out of her way. I told her to run whatever system she wants. I needed somebody who speaks that language because I didn’t.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from college is to hire really good people and stay out of their way.”
Sabino proceeded to go 20-1 and win the 3A state championship on Monday behind junior standout pitcher Riley Nielson, a pupil of Arizona pitching great Alicia Howell-Dunn, the top youth pitching trainer in Tucson.
The Sabercats have won the last two Class 3A state championships dating to Stainer’s title in 2019.
They appear to be a top contender for another title next year with seven of the top 10 batters returning along with Nielson (17-1 with a 0.96 ERA this season).
Howell indicated he and his wife, a second grade teacher in the Vail School District, are sold on the value of living in Tucson for their family. He may have found the end of his journey in his professional life.
“From where I started, it really is unbelievable that we have ended up settling here in Tucson,” he said. “It’s been great. I don’t envision us ever moving again.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District