GREAT FALLS — Bob and Kathleen Howard tell different versions of how they met.
“I was on my college visit to Montana State, and the girls there took me over to the gym at Bozeman and I got on Bob’s team in a pickup game,” recalled Kathleen. “I was wide open under the key area and instead of passing it to me he dribbles down the court, throws it off the backboard, catches it himself and first thing he says is, ‘Sorry, I missed you.’”
When it’s Bob’s turn to tell the story – a smile crosses his face.
“She was getting recruited at MSU and I was coaching down there, about the 30th assistant, coaching the JV team,” he laughed. “She was on our team and she claims that someone threw the ball off the backboard and didn’t pass to her and stuff like that, but that’s probably an exaggeration. But she was a very good high school player coming in and had a good career with the Cats and now I’m stuck with her.”
The one thing they can both agree on is that basketball brought them together on that day in 1982, and basketball has played a huge role in keeping them together in the 35-plus years since.
Kathleen (nee McLaughlin) went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career at Montana State, where she is still the all-time career leader in points and rebounds. After she graduated in 1986, the Howards began their second act in basketball – coaching high school teams.
“My first coaching job ever was in Denton, Montana,” Kathleen said. “The next year, I got married and then I took a year off and we went up to Browning. I coached the girls, he coached the boys. Then we went to Conrad. I needed a teaching job, so I started substituting down at Great Falls High. We lived in Conrad for six of the years I coached down here.”
Then came the third act, one that continues to this day: raising three boys on the hardwood. Bobby is the oldest, Bryan the middle son and Brendan is the youngest. They each went about creating their own legacies, but before they could dribble a ball there were game days in Conrad and at Great Falls High.
“There’s always a game,” Bob said. “It was always intense, they were always in the gym.”
Bob grinned again, deadpanning: “My kids probably don’t have to worry about skin cancer from sun exposure. But we were going everywhere, driving all over. We were all over the state and all over the Northwest playing basketball. It was fun.”
The Howard boys took to sports quickly and success followed. Bobby won a state championship playing for his father at Great Falls High in 2006. He went on to a successful career at Montana State, scoring more than 1,300 points. After a brief stint playing overseas, Bobby followed his parents into coaching – joining Mick Durham’s staff at Alaska-Fairbanks for four seasons before following Durham to Montana State Billings in 2018.
Bryan was a standout football player for Great Falls High and joined the football team at Minot State where he eventually graduated with a degree in broadcasting. He’s currently a board operator for Star Radio in Great Falls where he runs the broadcasts for Great Falls High athletics.
Brendan was a two-time Montana Gatorade basketball player of the year for Great Falls High, where he set the Class AA record for career points. He signed with Eastern Washington out of high school but transferred to MSUB after a redshirt season to rejoin Bobby.
“I wasn’t sure how it was all going to go,” Bobby admitted. “It was kind of an interesting situation, but I don’t think when Brendan calls and asks if he can be a part of it, I don’t think we can say no to a guy who’s a player like that. He actually turned out with a pretty good GPA this semester, too.”
Now Bobby is getting a taste of what his dad must have felt when coaching his sons.
“I’m definitely learning. I do think it’s made me a better coach, sometimes not as good of a brother as possible,” Bobby said. “If he does something, maybe I’m too hard on him. Sometimes I’m too worried about what other people think. But that’s part of it, too, is we have 14 other guys just like Brendan, and they all deserve enough attention. It’s been pretty cool to have him there every day and he makes it a lot easier, because 1) he’s talented, and 2) he’s the hardest worker, so that makes it pretty easy.”
Brendan cuts in.
“If I ever get yelled at, I probably deserve it,” he laughed.
For the first time in years, all the members of the Howard family reside within the state of Montana, and they couldn’t be happier.
Despite busy schedules, Bob and Kathleen haven’t missed an MSUB home game yet, often making the 3.5-hour trip to watch their sons compete, and then driving back the same night so they can teach the next morning.
“I’m just so happy being able to see Brendan play, and not being that far away and to see Bobby coach, too,” Kathleen said. “Just being there with family, and a lot of college friends from Billings. My old college basketball coach, Jane Hinman, comes to all the games with me. Bob is going to have to miss a few coming up, but we go down to every game we can.”
Having his parents in the stands makes an impact on Brendan’s playing, as well. As the sixth man, the freshman is averaging 13.1 points and four rebounds per game. Howard has helped the Yellowjackets to an 8-6 start and a 3-3 mark in the GNAC.
“My parents have been to every AAU tournament I’ve ever been to,” Brendan said. “They’ve always been there, so just to be able to have that support all the way through is, I think it’s awesome. It’s helped me become a better basketball player. Nothing can be too bad because they’re always just going to be there for you. They’re still going to love you, good and bad.”
With all of their sons chasing their dreams, Bob and Kathleen are the definition of proud parents. And these days, there’s a lot to be proud of.
“I’m pretty biased, I think I have three pretty nice kids, nice wife and a nice dog,” Bob said. “So if I can just find someone to shovel the sidewalk and cut the grass we’d be home free.”