PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - "We had some good years at Pikeville, just the years I just will always cherish. So good for us," Hillard Howard said about his time as head coach at Pikeville.
You could call Pikeville the house that Howard built.
"Obviously in our community football is important, and he understood that," Chris McNamee said, the current Pikeville head football coach and a member of the 1987 team.
"What was real humbling is you have your little girls and they see their papaw, and they've got a the plaque and they've got the field named after him," Jason Howard reminisced, Howard's son who was a graduate of Pikeville in 1990. "They're like 'that's my papaw, is he like famous or something?' And I'm like, well he did win a few games here."
Hillard Howard grew up in Whitesburg in Letcher County.
"He grew up in a little coal camp in Letcher county, in Whitesburg. He grew up one of 14 kids. He didn't have anything pretty much, but they had each other," Jason Howard continued. "They had their family, they had love for one another, they helped take care of each other."
Though he was from Whitesburg, Howard gave his everything to Pikeville.
"I think as a person he was - we were fortunate enough to have him in the school as a P.E. teacher, assistant principal," McNamee said.
"He was such a compassionate person, and people probably didn't see that side of him," his son Jason Howard added.
His upbringing made him the coach he was when he took over as the Panthers' head football coach in 1972.
"I got into it as a head coach in 1972, then in '72 we were state runners-up my first year. We got beat by Trigg County," Hillard Howard said.
It wasn't until 1987 when Howard achieved success on the field.
"I think it kinda took him a little while to get the respect, but I think when you win, you earn your respect," Jason Howard said.
Howard took winning to another level in 1987, as Pikeville made history as the first team to win three straight state titles in Kentucky.
"'87, '88 and '89, it was very special to have three teams - three years of winning the state championship," Jason Howard said. "Those years were the best years of my life."
But Howard says it was never about him, but the community he loved.
"He understood where some of these people have came from, and he didn't ever really think he was better than anyone," Jason Howard said.
"Well I just feel like we did a lot for kids at our school," Hillard Howard added. "You know, football was important, but we tried to look at them overall."