Illini assistant driven to run own program

Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard’s dream is to become a head coach and run his own program someday.

After attending the Nike Villa 7, a three-day training and leadership seminar for the country’s top assistant coaches at VCU in Richmond, Va., Howard walked away Thursday feeling he was that much closer to achieving it.

“It was just huge,” said Howard, who was one of 60 assistants invited to the seminar. “Probably outside of getting hired by Illinois and my recruiting success, this is probably the most important thing in my career.”

The seminar included guest speakers, mock interviews with a panel of athletic directors, one-on-one speed interviews and opportunities to discuss ideas with head coaches and fellow assistants. All of the assistants had their mock interviews recorded and were provided critiques of them.

Howard received positive feedback on his energy during the interview, his quickness in answering questions, his overall answers, his body language and dress attire. He was told he needed to work on describing his first 90 days on the job and being more complete with his answers.

“It wasn’t hard to hear the constructive criticism,” Howard said. “In life, you don’t just want to hear good things. If you want to make the next step and really grow and get better opportunities presented to you, you need constructive criticism or you’ll never change.”

Howard had hoped this offseason a few schools would have given him a chance at least to interview for their head coach openings, but it didn’t happen.

“I wasn’t contacted about head coaching jobs,” the 30-year-old Howard said. “I didn’t apply for Loyola. I didn’t try for Northern Illinois. I tried to put my name in there for the Bradley job, and I didn’t get a chance. I understand I’m still young and I’m only four years into this business, but I was frustrated to not a get chance to interview at Bradley and present myself and share my blueprint for a program.”

Howard would like to be a head coach sooner than later, but he realizes it does often take time. Illinois coach Bruce Weber had to wait 19 years before he was given his own program.

“It’s hard not to think about being a head coach because that’s my dream and goal,” Howard said. “At the same time, I’m in a great situation at Illinois. I played there. It’s home. I work for a great guy.”

Because of Howard’s ties to Illinois, his relationship with Weber and his recruiting success -- all seven of Illinois’ Class of 2011 recruits were Howard’s players -- he said he wouldn’t consider becoming an assistant at another program. Florida and Kentucky have been rumored to inquire about him in the past few years.

“I’m in a good situation,” Howard said. “My next step is an opportunity to be a head coach.”

Howard was inspired to be around so many up-and-coming coaches, but he was especially driven after speaking with VCU coach Shaka Smart throughout the three days. Smart, who is 34, coached VCU to the Final Four this past season.

Being around Smart made Howard even more optimistic about his dream.

“He gave me words of wisdom,” Howard said. “It’s motivating to see a young guy like that. He gives you a belief that you can do it at a young age. All you need is an opportunity and a chance.

“The biggest thing he told me was, ‘Yes, you want to be in a position to be a head coach, but the way you can do it is to do your job and be the best assistant you can be for coach Weber and the University of Illinois.’ When you do your job, good things happen, and you’ll get an opportunity.”