Howlett reaches new heights with Bengals


Dave DeLuca/The Record file photo

Mark Howlett turned a one-win team into a powerhouse in three years.

Ryan Mullen, Reporter

No one likes change. Even if someone tells you they like change, they are lying. No one likes change because it puts us out of our comfort zone. It makes us think and work a little harder. Change prevents us from just going through the motions as usual. In short, change is tough.

But in some cases, it’s necessary. Sometimes things are so bad, there is no option but to try something new.

The change in the men’s soccer program at Buffalo State started before the 2013 season. The Bengals were coming off a horrible season. Oftentimes, a team’s record does not tell the whole story. That wasn’t the case for the 2012 Bengals.

Buffalo State went 1-16-1, losing every game in conference play. It was a bad season for a mediocre program, and the Bengals needed change. The Bengals hadn’t posted a winning record since 2008, and their last playoff appearance was in 2007.

That change wasn’t an entirely new program or a new roster filled with all amazing new players; it was a coaching change. The replacement was current head coach Mark Howlett. Three years later, the team is preparing for its first-ever home playoff game in program history.

Before 2013, Howlett was at SUNY Canton. In his first head coaching job, Howlett helped Canton transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III.

But when Howlett reached Buffalo State, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. He had no time to catch his breath and relax. He wanted to get right to work.

Howlett took over a program that he felt was underachieving, irrelevant, and lacking in the win column. On top of that, he had a much shorter period of time to recruit compared to a coach who started recruiting when the previous season ended.

Against all odds, he managed to recruit 15 new players to the program. He didn’t recruit just anyone. He gathered talented players who helped the Bengals to an eight-win improvement. The jump helped the team make its first playoff appearance since 2007. Howlett also earned SUNYAC Coach of the Year.

In 2015, there was a consistent upward trend. The Bengals managed to reach the playoffs again and post their first winning record in seven seasons.

This season, Howlett – now in his fourth year – has made Buffalo State history. His team has clinched home field advantage with the program’s first-ever home playoff game. The team boasts a respectable 10-6-1 record.

With back-to-back playoff appearances and 10-win seasons, the Buffalo State men’s soccer team is in a much better place than it was just a short four seasons ago.

When you look at the statistics and the records from 2012 in comparison to the last four seasons, it seems unlikely. Most professional sports teams take longer to rebuild a team. Heck, the Buffalo Bills have been rebuilding for almost two whole decades.

Howlett’s case proves the importance of a good head coach. When you sit down and listen to what he has to say, you realize he’s very genuine. His recruits realize that, too.

Howlett emphasizes that when he recruits. Spending time and resources on a talented recruit that you would have to force to come to Buffalo isn’t efficient. He focuses his attention on players who want to be here and will buy in on what the program has to offer.

He wants to find players who do the things necessary to win. He doesn’t try to be convince players to come to Buffalo State if they don’t express interest.

This method is a cultural change from years past. Instead of looking only at talent, Howlett finds and brings in the right players. He likes players who will pay attention to detail and understand their role on the team.

Players like forwards Drew Johnson, Luke Pavone, Brandon Galanti and goaltenders Andreas Queen and William Banahene are all former Division-I players who are the perfect fit for Buffalo State. They all want to be here, and at the same time, are willing to put in the work to be successful.

Any talented player, no matter what the sport, will tell you that they will want to play at the highest level possible.

But when you see a group of players with D-I talent playing at a D-III school, it makes you scratch your head.

“I left because I believed his vision of what he wanted Buffalo State men’s team to become. From Canton, we had a tight bond and remained in contact after I left to Niagara,” senior goaltender William Banahene said. “I knew the passion Coach Howlett had, and how hard he works, so I felt that success was near for the program, and I wanted to be a part of that with him.”

The environment that Howlett creates is something you can believe in. Some coaches call it “the buy-in.” Howlett genuinely believes his teams can have great success. That’s why he can recruit and retain such talented players, because they believe in him and care about him too.

From the start, Howlett emphasized that he wants players who want to be here. But also, he wants to create an atmosphere where it’s a family environment. He expects each guy to care about each other – he says it’s a two-way street.

Howlett’s door is always open to talk to any of the players. Whether it’s about school, soccer or life in general. Howlett always lets his team know that they can count on him, and that’s what sets him apart from other coaches.

“I think it’s how much he makes the players part of his life,” Banahene said. “The relationship that we build with our coaches here is something you are not going to see anywhere else. It goes deeper than soccer. We all would run through a wall for him as he would for us.”

The program is reaching new heights, but Howlett feels there is no ceiling.

“At the point we become content, growth stops. We have to get to the next level,” Howlett said. “We’re at the point where we can play with nationally ranked teams, but we have to be able to beat those teams. I love it here. I really feel passionate and attached to this program. It’s great we’re winning games too. But can we strive for more? Absolutely.”

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