BYU has its own Bill Belichick?

Since his hire in 2000 as head coach, Bill Belichick has coached the New England Patriots to four Super Bowl appearances. A big Xs and Os strategist, Belichick is a master when it comes to the chess match of football, masking weaknesses and exploiting opponents. That same quality can be found within a coach at BYU.

At least that's what Corby Eason and other defensive backs in BYU's backfield will tell you.

"Coach Howell is the Bill Belichick of college football," Eason said with a smile. "I mean, he's an intense guy and always over-prepared for any situation. I love working with him because you know you're going to have all the information you need and no one is going to catch you by surprise.

"I really enjoy going to meetings with him and spending extra time learning extra stuff from him. I try getting on the same page as him by knowing what he knows, and it's really hard because he knows so much. It's crazy, but that's who Coach Howell reminds me of – Bill Belichick."

Like Belichick, Coach Howell is an information and preparedness guru. He lives on knowing more than his opponent does. Then once he's reached that status, he takes it a step further by doubling it to ensure. He is literally a coaching encyclopedia when it comes to preparedness, execution and player evaluation.

"I think Corby is right when he says that Coach Howell is a lot like Bill Belichick," said safety Mike Hague. "The reason is because he's incredibly prepared. If you think you can stump him with a question, think again. He's already prepared for it.

"He's one of those guys that thinks of every possible solution, every possible problem that can happen and every possible situation that can arise, and has a solution for it. His preparation is what sets him apart, and that's why I think he could be compared to a Bill Belichick – his preparation and then his ability to push you to your limit."

While Belichick has the second-longest tenure as an NFL head coach (only behind the Eagles' Andy Reid), Coach Howell is relatively new to the BYU coaching staff. Still, his youthful enthusiasm, coupled with his uncanny ability to prepare, evaluate and strategize, has endeared him to his players with absolute trust.

"Well, he brought a new personality, a young personality, to our defensive backfield," said Eason. "He's really improved the player-coach relationship that we have here. He treats us like we're one of his kids, and as a player we can talk to him anytime about anything. He makes us work hard and expects us to always be improving. In the end you love it because you see the results. I love it."

It starts in team meetings, when Coach Howell comes ready to divulge volumes of scouting information.

"On Mondays when we come in to break down a team, I mean, he knows everything," Eason said. "He has everything broken down to the smallest detail, things like what receiver is going to get the ball on what down and distance in a specific formation. We have every single top pass and run play broken down and evaluated for us by Monday for us to learn and be prepared.

"He goes down to the teeth. Like, how the players line up in their alignment and what they'll do in a given play based on the formations. He reminds me so much of Coach Mendenhall and always tells us that he tries to be like Coach Mendenhall.

"I think it's a great thing because Coach Mendenhall is a great example. Like Coach Mendenhall, Coach Howell pushes us hard. Then Coach Mendenhall pushes us hard, so they've been preparing us to be the best we can be. He's a lot like Coach Mendenhall in his intensity and how he gets the most out of you. Then he's like Bill Belichick in how much he prepares you."

While Hague agrees with Eason's Belichick-Howell comparisons, he took it one step further.

"Oftentimes we're not the best athletes in the world, but he's able to turn us into great football players, and that's what Bill Belichick does," Hague said. "If you think about all the guys that the New England Patriots have, first of all you think of Tom Brady. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick. Coming out of college, Tom Brady wasn't a big deal, but look at how Belichick took him and brought out his potential."

So how does Coach Howell do it? Well apparently, he is a master at utilizing the tools and resources afforded him, allowing him to gather the mountain-loads of information he feels is needed for success.

"On our video system, he'll create and provide a cut-up," Eason said. "He'll then have us watch it. He'll have each player of the opposing team cut up into their own personal video file and tell us what guys to watch. We plan on being a step ahead of them all the time."

"I love learning from Coach Howell because he's definitely prepared with his materials," said Hague. "For spring and summer the booklet that we had to read was probably 250 pages. It was a booklet that had details about all our different coverages.

"I had to learn it all because, as a free safety, I had to know what everybody does on the field. It was every possible coverage, every possible offensive situation that I could possibly see, he had in there. He is just incredibly prepared and he makes sure that we are incredibly prepared too. It's pretty sweet and I like it."

According to Eason, the tools Howell used to further develop his Belichick characteristics not only stem from his college coaching circles, but from beyond as well.

"His knowledge of the game and his ability to break down film and analyze it is incredible," said Eason. "Every day, he would go to different NFL training camps. He really learned his stuff by doing that. Then he would bring that knowledge back to us. Every chance I get, I try to go and watch extra film to gain an advantage of my opponent. That's something he's really taught us how to do."

"It's about learning the game and studying with those who know more than you do," said Coach Howell. "It's about learning from them and then trying to apply it. It's about always being inquisitive and trying to learn, because you can never know everything. You're always just trying to progress by exposing yourself to the best possible influences. That part is a lot of fun."

Is there any coach out there that will out-prepare Coach Howell?

"I highly doubt it, I highly doubt it," Eason said. "They would have to be a NFL coach or have extra help to out-prepare him. Every single day he has us as prepared as we can be. I don't know how else anyone could out-prepare us, because we have so much information on everything from the obvious things to the smallest details."

While the veteran players might have grown accustomed to turning their minds into a Hoover Deluxe and sucking in every little detail, that amount of information can create a sort of sensory and information overload for some of the younger players.

"It can be really overwhelming at first because there is so much information," said Eason. "Being a veteran, I'm used to going over 50 million things in one day and catching on to it. After a while, you adjust to all the information to where it doesn't overload you. You know how to handle it, but the younger guys have a really hard time because it can be overwhelming with how much information you're given and expected to know. If you're not used to it, it's tough."

The Cougar defensive backfield may be deep and talented, but it's a group still being tried and tested so as to find the absolute best combination of players to field. Tuesday's practice saw many different defensive backs receiving the opportunity to make their case. With a secondary that's heavily prepared and pushed a great deal, could it be that Coach Howell is looking for one small speck of information signaling a separation?

"We're going to play the best player and that's the bottom line," said Coach Howell. "This is a lot of fun and it's enjoyable. This is going to be a fun group and they're trying hard. It's fun."

While Coach Howell wouldn't compare himself to anyone – other than Coach Mendenhall – one thing is certain: the secondary is in unique and great hands with Coach Howell at the helm.

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