HOWLAND - When former Howland High School athletic director Dave Mock named Dick Angle the football coach in 1998, the program was barely a speck on the Ohio high school map.
Fifteen years and nine playoff appearances later, there's a big orange dot on that map. Angle, who announced his resignation Thursday morning, played a prominent role in that transformation, reviving a floundering program by winning eight conference championships and posting a 108-56 record.
Angle remembers that day in 1998 when he accepted the challenge. What still stands out were the words of an unknown fan.
Tribune Chronicle file / R. Michael Semple
Former Howland High?School football coach Dick Angle spent 15 successful seasons leading the Tigers. He officially retired at a press conference on Thursday.
"There was a gentleman that came up to me immediately after introductions and I'll never forget what he said," Angle recalled. "He said, 'Now we're going to find out what you're all about, Angle, because you don't have the private kid anymore; you have the Howland kid.'
"I was taken aback by that. I asked him, 'How do you define the Howland kid because I'll tell you how I'm going to define him. He's going to be a gentleman off the field; they're going to play hard on the field, and they're going to make this community proud of what we do.' I hope that guy is still around. I'll ask him, 'How do you like the Howland kid now?' "
Angle's decision was based on a desire to spend more time with his wife, Bernadette, their son Marc and daughter-in-law in Florida. He's also cherishing the thought of spending time with his two grandchildren.
Angle coached in the area for 36 years, including 17 at Ursuline before accepting the Howland post. He also coached and taught at Lakeview (Pa.) High School, Sharon Kennedy Catholic and Keystone Oaks (Pa.). His career record of 262-161-3 includes 12 conference championships, 33 playoff appearances and two trips to the state semifinals.
"He's done a great job with our kids and bringing the program from where we were," athletic director Ron McCleary said. "We had football here for years but with sporadic success. He put us on the map as a team that was going to be successful year in and year out with seven straight league championships and seven straight playoff appearances. He's elevated our program to the next level."
Angle is proud of the success stories the program has helped produce for athletes after graduation. Howland has a 97 percent graduation rate among its football players and has sent more than 200 student-athletes to the collegiate level during Angle's tenure.
Angle talked about his immediate family as the primary reason for his decision. The difficult part is losing close contact with the extended family that is the football program.
"It was tough because I don't think I coached football; I coached family and accountability," Angle said. "I coached a style of being very loyal. I'm very lucky. I know so many things about my kids that their parents don't know. We share a lot of things. It's a family atmosphere."
Several football players attended the press conference. Star running back De'Veon Smith, who will attend the University of Michigan later this year, spoke for the group.
"Coach Angle is like a father figure to most of the guys here," Smith said. "We're going to miss him. We really appreciate everything you've done for us and we love you like a father. I know what you left here for us isn't going to change at all."
The football program had struggled to establish consistency prior to Angle's arrival. Mock ended the press conference in 1998 with a "Beat Kennedy" cheer. The advantage in that series eventually switched to Howland.
"One of the biggest wins in our program was the last game in '98," Angle said. "We were coming off a thumping in the ninth week and were playing a good Canfield team. We won that game. When we came back to the locker room our kids were so excited. They wanted to start working the next Monday.
"We pinpointed things we had to get done. We had to change the Kennedy series. We had to dominate that, and we did. We got into a good league (Metro Athletic Conference), and we took our thumps. It all started turning because we had a plan."
Angle's plan now is to spend more time with his family and perhaps coach a little football.