By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - So respected was Kenny Howard as an athletic trainer, the expansion Dallas Cowboys offered him a job in the early 60s.
“I said, ‘No, can’t leave Auburn,’” Howard recalled in September.
Howard, Auburn’s trainer during all 25 seasons (1951-75) Ralph “Shug” Jordan coached the Tigers, died Monday in his sleep. He was 90.
An Auburn Man for more than 70 years, Howard first started working as Auburn’s student trainer in 1946.
After graduating, Coach Wilbur Hutsell hired Howard full-time. When Coach Jordan came back to Auburn from Georgia in 1951, he kept Howard as trainer and assigned him to help with the team’s travel logistics.
“The beginning of a long friendship I had with Coach Jordan,” Howard said.
“Kenny Howard was defined by his human touch for all who knew him and all who came under his influence,” Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said. “As a trainer who worked with every Auburn student-athlete for more than four decades, Kenny’s impact on the lives of those who competed here is impossible to measure. He was a great Auburn man who lived his life by the values expressed in our Creed.
“Kenny was also a key member of the leadership team during the Jordan-Beard Era, one of the most important times in the history of Auburn Athletics. The program we have today was built on the shoulders of men like Coach Jordan, Mr. Beard and unsung heroes like Kenny Howard. I offer my condolences and sincere appreciation to Kenny’s family, the only thing he loved more than Auburn.”
In his later years, Howard usually watched Auburn football games on television from his home a few miles from campus. He returned in September to the stadium named after his longtime friend when Auburn’s 1976 team celebrated its 40-year reunion.
“It’s a great thing to see those guys because they get together at these reunions, and it’s just like they never left here,” Howard said. “They’re back to being kids again.”
Since his arrival from Crossville, Ala., seven decades earlier, much had changed. But two things, Howard said, had not: Auburn people, and the competitiveness of Auburn’s student-athletes.
“The same now as it was then are the fans,” he said. “They’re the same. They are very, very loyal to Auburn. They thoroughly enjoy coming to the ballgames. In that way, it’s the same.
“Everything about the game has changed, except maybe the intensity of the athletes so far as his competitive spirit. That competitive spirit is still there – it’s the same. And I hope it always will be.”
Kenny Howard was Coach Jordan’s closest friend, having served as trainer when Jordan coached Auburn’s basketball team after returning from World War II.
When Coach Jordan retired after the 1975 season, Howard left the field to become Auburn’s assistant athletic director.
“I wish that everyone could have had the experience of knowing and being with Coach Jordan. Because he set a standard for these athletes that has stood them in good stead all of these years of what it requires to be a good, solid citizen.”
Those who were fortunate enough to have known Mr. Kenny feel the same way.
“He touched and influenced lives at all areas of Auburn Athletics,” former athletic director and sports information director David Housel said.
“Perhaps the finest thing you can say about a man is simply this, ‘He was a good man,’” Housel said. “And Kenny Howard was a great Auburn Man.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer