By John Morgan
In high school, there were usual nicknames for teachers, especially coaches. “Useless” Howell” was one we used for our eighth-grade football coach, among others. It wasn’t until I was elected to the Board of Alderman in 2009 did I truly get to know Ulysses “Coach” Howell and the person that John Leslie and Pat Lamar appointed as the first African-American alderman in Oxford.
Even though I was elected to serve with Coach, it didn’t start out too rosy. You see, in 2009, Coach had an opponent with whom I graduated high school. This opponent ran into me at Home Depot and told me he was running against Coach. Well, I let some people know what he said at City Hall. It turned out this person had not even qualified and didn’t qualify until days later.
At the time, Coach thought I had something to do with this person running against him. Long story short, it took years for Coach to come to trust me and realize that I had nothing to do with that situation, but eventually, we became close friends.
He used to tease me about being in favor of the alcohol issues and I would tease him about being against them. I always acted like I knew he had a charge account up at Star Package, knowing he really didn’t. Coach was who he was. He always wanted everyone treated equally. I remember one time I was so mad at him when my son was on the list to get a job at FNC Park for the summer and he brought up the fact that he had known others who had not been able to work because of the positions of their parents on the city payroll. I was livid but he was correct.
Needless to say, I was shocked when I received the text from the Mayor asking the board for prayers Friday morning, but I was still comforted knowing his relationship with the Lord. Last week, I took him an ice chest full of fish and text him that they were on his porch. I joked with him on the text and said that his neighbor had come over while I was dropping them off took half of them. I was doing this just to get his dander up, but he texted me back and said, “That was fine, which one was it.” That was just Coach.
Coach Howell ran the last Alderman meeting on May 7 as Mayor ProTem because Robyn Tannehill was out of town. He did great. I was sitting in my chair after the meeting and got a call from him at about 7 p.m. and he asked me, “How do you think I did?” I said, “You did great, Coach,” not knowing that would be the last time I would speak with him.
Oxford has lost a leader and not to stereotype this thing, but the African American community has lost an even bigger leader. R.I.P. Coach.