Mike Howland was an All-American point guard at DePauw College in the early 2000s and his current job as Winthrop men’s basketball’s director of operations is very similar in purpose: getting a basketball team moved in the right direction.
The NCAA prohibits directors of basketball operations - known as DOBOs - from coaching players on the court in practice or recruiting future players off-campus, so Howland’s duties are somewhat different from the rest of the coaching staff. Consider him Winthrop’s off the court point guard.
“You’re leading a mass group of people, definitely when it comes to the travel stuff, you’re in charge of on average 30 to 35 people and we try to do it extremely efficiently,” said Howland. “So you have to be organized and prepared.”
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Howland’s job covers a number of broad topics and random tasks. The main ones include organizing all of the program’s traveling (lodging, food and transportation fall in there), overseeing recruiting logistics (setting up and planning campus visits for recruits and managing the program’s recruiting database), running Pat Kelsey’s summer basketball camp, arranging players’ housing and anything scheduling-related, whether setting times for shoot-arounds before road games or the assembling of the program’s weekly schedule with Kelsey on Sunday nights.
We’re into routines and schedules here, which I think is really good because you want to make it as easy on the players as possible. We have an itinerary, a schedule and a plan, and we want to stick to it. And that’s my job to make sure we stay on schedule.
Winthrop director of basketball operations Mike Howland
Most DOBOs are 20-somethings right out of college, willing to work themselves into the ground for low pay in hopes of a spot on a coaching staff.
The 36-year old Howland’s path has been a little more “funky” as he termed it. He worked as a financial trader and assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, St. Viator in Arlington Heights, Ill., for seven years, trading treasury bond futures until 2 p.m. before heading over to St. Viator for basketball practice in the evening.
Howland was a successful trader with a knack for selling at just the right moment. But his high school coach retired around 2010 and Howland ascended into the head job, a move that coincided with an increased hankering to get back into basketball full-time.
“I always wanted to get into college coaching, I just didn’t know the path I would end up taking,” he said.
After a couple of seasons in charge of St. Viator, Howland married his wife, Shannon, also unusual for directors of basketball operations, generally young singles whose idea of a home-cooked meal is freshly microwaved Ramen noodles. Howland gave credit to his wife because after just a year of marriage they moved away from family and friends in Chicago so he could take a DOBO job at Missouri State University. He was only there for a year before Pat Kelsey brought him to Winthrop in 2015.
Howland replaced Tony Rack, who took a job as a full assistant coach at Northern Kentucky. Howland’s next goal is to make the same transition.
“This is the step in that direction,” he said. “I miss coaching on the floor a lot and I’d like to get on the road recruiting, but you can’t skip steps. It’s hard to get in and then, to me, you’ve just got to prove your work ethic.”
Three Mike Howland life hacks
A maven of organization, Winthrop director of basketball operations Mike Howland took some time out of his jammed Monday schedule to offer The Herald some insights into what helps him be the most organized person connected with Winthrop men’s basketball:
Organizing emails makes Howland’s life easier. He makes folders in Microsoft Outlook for each road trip that the team takes or other events, like Kelsey’s summer basketball camp. That enables him to find information quickly, especially the thousands of reminders and notes that he emails to himself in the average year. If, for example, Winthrop basketball had a terrible (or wonderful) experience at a mom-and-pop diner on the way to Longwood, Howland would send himself an email about it and put it in the Longwood folder for future reference.
“There’s just so many little details in (emails) and you’re going back and searching and it’s just hard,” he said. “I just go to my folder and it’s in there. I’m not searching through 5,000, I’m searching through 20.”
Lock in with a list
You won’t often see Howland without his card, a vertical rectangle of card stock that fits perfectly in a back pocket. It contains the day’s tasks, reminders and plan. Things that need to get done first are highlighted in yellow, and Howland knows at a certain time of day that if he’s still near the top of the card he needs to pick up the pace.
“It’s a very simple thing for me but it keeps me locked in,” he said. “Whether it’s 3 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 7 o’clock or 9 o’clock, I’m not leaving until these yellows have a black line through them.”
Dictate your pace
Howland said that this year’s Winthrop men’s basketball group has been very easy and low maintenance to move around the country, whether by bus or plane. The hardest part of a road trip for Howland is the people and entities he can’t control, like bus drivers or restaurants and airlines.
“I try to control them a little bit,” said Howland.
He does this by helping out the restaurant or airline. He’ll send in the entire team’s food order ahead of time and establish an assigned seating plan so that salads and drinks await the players when they arrive and confusion is limited for the servers, or make sure all of the players and coaches have checked in online the day ahead of a flight. In other words, Howland helps them help him.
“I’m very ‘on it’ with those people,” he said. “It’s not like I want to, we have to stay on schedule.”