5-time state champ coach Kurt Howell steps down at Smyrna

Smyrna head coach Kurt Howell (Delaware State News file photo)

SMYRNA — Wrestling has been a part of Kurt Howell’s life for as long as he can remember.

So, at 50, it’s not like he’s going to completely walk away from the sport now.

But after 14 seasons and five DIAA state titles as the head coach at Smyrna High, Howell told his wrestlers on Tuesday night that he’s stepping down as the Eagles’ head coach.

Howell said it probably took them by surprise when he made the announcement at the team’s season-ending banquet.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place last night — including mine,” Howell said on Wednesday.

Howell, though, also told his wrestlers that they’ll still see a lot of him. He’ll remain a psychology and history teacher at the high school.

“I told the boys last night, I’m not dying, I’m not retired,” said Howell. “I’m not leaving the school. I’m going to be here every day. I will probably be in the (wrestling) room. We’ll just have to wait and see who the head coach is.

“I will be able to work with you guys individually and maybe as a group. But I’m just not going to be the guy that’s blowing the whistle.”

There were a few main reasons that Howell decided to step away from head coaching.

For one thing, he’s had joint replacement surgeries on both his shoulders and will probably need a similar operation on one of his knees this summer.

More than that, though, Howell said he wants to be there for his family. He has two sons, including one who wrestles at Smyrna’s middle school.

“It’s very difficult when you’re coaching anything, I guess,” said Howell. “It seems like wrestling just takes everything out of you. You go home and I can’t give the energy that I want to my family and I know they deserve.

“I felt like it was time to tell my family I love them with more than just words.”

An undefeated wrestler at Newark High and an All-American at Clemson, Howell was Indian River’s head coach for six seasons before taking the Smyrna job. Continuing the Eagles’ long run of wrestling success, Smyrna was a perennial contender in the Henlopen Conference under Howell.

The Eagles have reached the Division I state dual-meet finals for six years in a row, capturing the title four straight seasons between 2013-16.

Smyrna lost to Caesar Rodney, 30-29, in the Division I finals last month.

The Eagles also made the Division II title match twice under Howell, winning the crown in 2005.

Howell said he’ll miss the connection he had with his wrestlers but not some of the long busrides to out-of-state tournaments.

“I want to stay on for the kids,” he said. “You develop relationships. That (stepping down) is tough.

“I’m looking forward to kind of being a free-lancer,” Howell added. “I’ll be able to run out to one practice and go to another practice. Then, if I feel like my family needs me at home, I’ll stay home a night.

“I needed to be in that position where I don’t have to be there (at practice).”

Howell is only the sixth wrestling head coach that Smyrna has had since the program started in the early 1960s. The past coaches are still regulars at the Eagles’ matches.

“It (wrestling) just becomes a part of who you are,” said Howell. “That’s one of the things I told my kids last night. … ‘Don’t think you’re not going to be hearing from me. I’m going to be involved in what you’re doing.’

“I’ve definitely enjoyed being part of Smyrna’s program. It’s such a proud tradition here. All the former coaches are part of this program. I see them all the time. They’re always sitting in the same little group in the bleachers. I guess that’s where I’m going to be sitting next year.”

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