Remembering Rodeo Coach George Howard
It’s never easy to put into words what a person meant after someone recently passed away, but there’s no denying George Howard created an impact.
Whether you’re talking rodeo, the University of Wyoming, just in Laramie and around Albany County or elsewhere, George Howard had a profound impression on a lot of folks. A lot of you knew him far better than I, and I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. Just reflecting on things seen on social media and some of the reaction that’s come in since his passing Sunday, is only a part of the impact he made on people.
Howard’s coaching resume doesn’t even begin to describe the man, but he had quite a few accomplishments during an impressive head coaching career at UW that started in 1997-98.
Howard coached the Wyoming Cowgirls to two CNFR Championships in 2007 and 2009. They came in second earlier this year, and also placed third, four other times. The Wyoming Cowboys were national runners-up once and had a pair of third-place finishes at the CNFR under Howard. He coached the women to eight Central Rocky Mountain Regional (CRMR) team championships and the men to four team titles in the region. George also coached 10 individual national champions in a mix of both men’s and women’s events.
Former Wyoming Rodeo Student-Athletes
Former Cowgirl and two-time national All-Around champion Nikki (Steffes) Hansen was on both of the National Championship squads during her rodeo career at the University of Wyoming. Her illustrious career included being a three-time national runner-up in goat tying; a four-time CRMR All-Around champ; three barrel racing regional titles; and two goat tying regional crowns.
Hansen said she was so saddened to hear of George’s passing. She spoke about a chance to spend time at the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas with George and his wife, Julie, their daughter Chyann (Howard) Brandemuehl, her husband Troy, and their son.
“My first thought was I’m so thankful that I got to spend that time with George again. That he got to meet my daughter, I had a baby in March, Elsie Rose, and George got to meet her… I cherish that hour that we got to spend together, kind of past college. George was such an important part of my life. I spent five years in Laramie. I loved every minute of it. I loved the University of Wyoming, loved competing for the rodeo team, and so George kind of watched me grow up. To spend that time with him, now that I’m married, and have a daughter of my own, that was so special. To be honest, I still really can’t believe that he’s gone.”
Hansen mentioned she has been in contact with the family and is planning to return this Saturday for a celebration of George Howard’s life.
Billie Sutton is another UW rodeo competitor who reached out. The former Cowboy qualified for the CNFR all four years. He was a three-time regional saddle bronc champ and won two All-Around titles.
Sutton said he was, “Incredibly saddened by the loss. George was a great coach, and really a loss for his family. He was a good guy, and I considered him a friend. He was really the catalyst for my success in college rodeo.”
Sutton had an unfortunate accident competing at a rodeo after his collegiate career was done. He had a horse flip over on him in a chute and became paralyzed from the waist down.
“George stuck with me through all that, as well, as so many people did. I’ll never forget that because, if he was your friend, he was your friend, and there wasn’t any question about that. He actually hired me to be the assistant rodeo coach for a while, after my injury, and that was a really great experience, too. He was always there to lend a helping hand, and he would help anybody that needed it.”
Sutton has gone on to serve as a state senator in the South Dakota legislature and is running for governor.
University of Wyoming Media Relations
Milton Ontiveroz works in the University of Wyoming Institutional Communications department as a Communications Specialist. He’s known and worked with Coach Howard since he started at UW.
“I have been covering UW rodeo for 21 years, including the past 20 when George was leading the Cowboys and Cowgirls,” Ontiveroz said. “George was a very nice man who always took the time to answer my questions; he was most helpful in providing any information needed to help with my stories throughout the season. He taught me a lot about rodeo, and, for a novice like me, the complicated scoring system was confusing, but George guided me through and explained the waypoints are accumulated through each round. What I admired about George was his willingness to promote his program through the media, especially his student-athletes. He provided contact information whenever I wanted to interview an individual. The student-athletes followed George’s lead and were always courteous, polite and willing to sit through an interview. He really recruited good students, and he was like a proud parent whenever his “kids” graduated from UW."
"And I want to remember George as a man who always had a smile on his face. I remember asking him one day, 'George, you never seem to have a bad day.' He just smiled and said no," Ontiveroz added. "He was always upbeat.”
As for me, while I didn’t know George on an in-depth personal basis, he was more than willing to always talk about his teams to an amateur rodeo (sports) reporter learning the ropes. He took time to talk up “his kids” and always had their best interest at heart. Throughout the many interviews, he was kind enough to do with me through the years, Coach Howard always brought a smile to my face.
George Howard was 59.