RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Everybody has heard the old saying, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” This old chestnut is true when it comes to being a coach’s wife, too.
So take two guys in love with football and pair them with cheerleaders. That’s what we have here in Rio Rancho, and in this issue, the Observer introduces you to the wives of the city’s varsity football coaches: Tami Howes (TH), the wife of 11th-year Rams coach David Howes, and Erica Ridenour (ER), the better half of the Storm’s eighth-season head coach Heath Ridenour.
Both coaches have led their teams to state championships — Howes in 2014 and ’16, Ridenour in 2015 — and all three of those championship games were played in the City of Vision, capping 13-0 seasons. The biggest difference between the families seems to be the Howes’ kids are teens and playing varsity sports, while the Ridenours’ trio of youngsters are a few years away from their high school years.
Now, here are their wives’ responses to some questions posed by the Observer:
When did you meet your husband?
TH: David and I met in high school, he asked me out on a date in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year and he was going into his junior year. David never showed up for this “said date!” My precious daddy was not happy with this “boy who needed a talking to.” Later that evening David called to say he borrowed a friend’s car to come see me, but the car ran out of oil and the engine blew. (Likely story right?) He should have said he was abducted by aliens. At that time, David didn’t even have a driver’s license and he “blew an engine of a friend’s car” trying to see me. (Yah, right!) After that little “incident” I wasn’t gonna have any of that business and I didn’t give David the time of day for a solid year if not longer.
At some point in time in the far future, I was at cheerleading tryouts and guess who was conveniently hanging around the gym at the same time? Dave Howes. Anyway, he made it a point to talk to me and make me laugh and his battle was finally won and I agreed to go on a date with him. It wasn’t until many years later I told my daddy it was David that stood me up that summer night.
ER: I met Heath in September of 2003. I was playing tennis at ENMU.
Was he a football coach then?
TH: David was not earning money for it, but he has always watched film on the other teams and coached up his peers or my brother when he was still playing high school football. His first coaching job was a swim team and water polo coach.
ER: Heath was already a football coach. He was a (grad assistant) for ENMU. He has been a football coach since the day we met.
Have you always been a football fan?
TH: Always! Growing up, sports was all we did! My precious daddy had his big TV set up and a smaller TV next to it so he could see two events at the same time, in addition to a Walkman in his ears with another sporting event playing. It did not matter what sport it was — NASCAR, tennis, gymnastics, baseball, football, soccer, horse racing, curling, rodeo, you name it — I have watched it and probably know the rules.
ER: I grew up watching football and was a cheerleader in high school. I have always been around football.
Did you envision your son playing for your husband?
TH: I sure did; I knew our son would play for his dad. The day Joshua came into this world was during the football season. “Joshy boy” was a couple hours old when his daddy left for practice at Rio Rancho High School. “Joshy boy” was born a Ram and I hoped one day he would play for the Rams, but I always knew no matter where we were he would play for his daddy.
ER: Yes, I envision my son playing football for my husband. I think that is only natural with the position my husband holds. Cooper, our son, loves to be at the field and around the football boys. I think it will be hard to keep him away from it, even if I wanted to do so.
Best time of the year to be a football coach’s wife?
TH: During a winning season! Hello?
ER: The best time of year to be a coach’s wife is off-season. Don’t get me wrong: I love Friday nights of football season. The games are the best. But the kids and I miss having Heath around. He spends a lot of time preparing his team for the task in front of them.
Worst time of the year to be a football coach’s wife?
TH: Waiting for football season. Surely you have heard the saying, “Coaches’ wives live with two seasons: Football Season and Waiting for Football Season.”
ER: The worst time of year to be a coach’s wife, for me, is putting our kids to bed without seeing their dad. At least once a week, Heath will stay at the school and watch the sub-varsity teams play. By the time the game is over, it’s past our kids’ bedtime. We try to go have dinner with him, on nights like this, if our kids’ extracurricular activities don’t interfere.
Most-memorable football-connected day in your life?
TH: Full moon out; Friday night, Dec. 5, 2014: the first 6A title game for head coach David Howes. Police escorted the football team onto the field, extra stands were brought in for seating — standing room only, and the win came down to the last minute of the game. A 13-0 season! Still to this day, I get chills saying it.
ER: Most memorable football moment for me is when the Storm won the state championship in 2015.
Worst football-connected day in your life?
TH: They are rare, thankfully! David had a player who had a freak accident on the field from a congenital birth defect. It was upsettingly scary at the time, but now the athlete is doing well and able to play sports (not football, though). The other two times were two dads in the program that passed away too soon. As new athletes come into the program, they quickly learn what is meant when you hear the phrase “Ram Family.”
ER: Worst football-connected day in my life was the day we laid Romell Jordan to rest.
Do people in Rio Rancho recognize you? (Is that good or bad?)
TH: Yes, in both Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. Mostly players, current and former. David has been around for a while. It’s always a good thing! Younger athletes always have the best stories about their football days or experiences with David. I love to hear what these young men have done with their lives and how David impacted them.
ER: I don’t think people recognized me in Rio Rancho. If they do, they don’t say. The parents and the players recognize me and are great to me, but as far as the general public, I think I go unnoticed, which is good.
What’s it like, sitting in the stands on Game Night?
TH: I love Friday Night Lights! I love the spirit of the games; I love the early part of the season when it’s still warm out and tons of kids attend the games. As the weather gets bad or colder, the crowd thins out a little more. This is OK, too: This way David can hear me yelling what needs to done.
ER: I am truly blessed to be the Cleveland Storm’s head football coach’s wife. At home games, I sit in a section with the other coaches’ wives and their families. I have been around long enough that most of the fans know who I am. They are pretty careful about saying negative things. Unfortunately, there are times where it is hard to sit in the stands and listens to people criticize your husband.
How hard is it to say “something” to someone else about their comments?
TH: Unfortunately for David, it’s not hard for me at all! It’s rare because this is the name of the game. If you’re a coach you will be criticized. I know David and his coaches are not purposely making random calls and putting random kids in random spots to purposely make the parents upset. Silliness. Comments about coaching don’t bother me, I probably even giggle to myself about it along with an eye roll. For the most part I typically don’t ever hear any comments; most people know I am a coach’s wife. People are pretty respectful and realize my husband coaches for the love of the kids and the game.
ER: Sometimes I’d like to defend my husband, the boys and the other coaches, but in the end, it will only make things worse. I know what goes on within the program on a daily basis and I know those boys and those coaches give it literally everything they have. The best thing for me to do is cheer and be positive.
What’s something you “get” that you wish high school fans understood?
TH: The X’s and O’s are a realistic look into how the world will work metaphorically speaking. Everyone has a position; some are skilled positions and some are supporting positions. Sometimes you are on offensive and going for something in life hard and fast with calculated risks. Sometimes you’re on defense protecting the things you love, value, cherish and unwilling to allow anything to near whatever that “thing” is, so they don’t make it to the end zone. In most cases, you have to trust someone else and work as a team to make the goal happen. Sometimes flags are called. Sometimes we suffer penalties. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. At the end of the day, if you learn the basics of these concepts early and while playing sports, you will be a better, reliable and skilled individually in life. Oh, and our husbands don’t coach high school football for the money. If that was the case, all the jobs that come knocking along the way, they would have left. If you chase money, you will run for a long time and may never find happiness.
ER: Something that I get, that I wished the fans got is that it is not just coaching. Heath invests everything into these boys. There is so much more to it than wins and losses. He works hard to develop personal relationships with all of them. All of the coaches do.
What’s your best advice for a woman whose husband is about to become or is even thinking about becoming a football coach?
TH: The coaches are the heart; the players are the muscles; the parents are the bones; the fans are the air — and the coaches’ wives are the brain. For me personally, I love it! I always have. It’s a wonderful support group of women who share a common bond (and in some cases become lifelong friends). Regardless if the day or season is good or bad, another woman knows the feeling and can share a thought or two.
I would share the saying “Time is precious” will become very true and time will be what you make of it. You can live a life where the only signs of your husband during the season are his dirty clothes hanging over the edge of the hamper and the toilet seat left up. Or you can make the time “quality time.” I think when you’re a coach’s wife, quality time is not like the standard 8-5 family life. Yes, there will be a lot of his time spent at the field house, but this passion is a ride for the family. Both Hailey and Joshua grew up at the Rams’ football fieldhouse; the stadium and stands were their playground. Friday nights were a big deal because the super cool concession stand was where you could independently purchase your own dinner as a 6-year-old. Or participate as the ball boy and be on the side lines with some of the biggest and coolest football players. Quality time is what you make of it and I love/loved mine.
ER: Advice for a future coach’s wife: Coaching is not just the games. It is a huge time commitment. Be ready to share your spouse with others. He will take the job home with him every night and he will be so much more than a coach to those boys.
TH: You know it! Kitchen towels, front door mat, serving plates … name it and we have it. We have a large dry-erase board we keep everyone’s game schedules on. There are a few dates I did not fill in with activities because they have a football play drawn in those boxes and before I erase it, I need to make sure David has it. A play is not going to go missing because I needed to write in “soccer pictures/white unis.”
ER: Of course I allow football stuff around the house. Football is a big part of all of our lives.
At left, top: The Howes family; below that, the Ridenours.