Glenn Howard entered the football season with a 246-51 record in 27 seasons as the head coach at Paulsboro High School.

His teams had won 11 sectional titles and fashioned two of the three longest winning streaks in South Jersey history - the still-unfathomable, 63-game run that ended in 1998 and a separate, 37-gamer that ended in 2003.

The coach was a first-ballot, inner-sanctum Hall of Famer even if he never won another game.

But Howard wasn't concerned about himself or his legacy as he pondered the state of his program after the 2013 season ended with three consecutive losses, including a 12-8 setback to eventual champion Glassboro in the first round of the South Jersey Group 1 tournament.

He was concerned about his players - present, future, and those in the recent past.

"We had a lot of kids in recent years who never made it to a championship game," Howard said. "We felt we needed to do something to change things around."

Howard isn't The Inquirer's South Jersey football coach of the year because Paulsboro went 10-2 this season, winning the Colonial Freedom title and capturing the program's 17th sectional title with a 21-0 triumph over Salem in the South Jersey Group 1 title game Dec. 6 at Rowan University.

Howard earned the award because of his willingness to change and his ability to implement a drastically different offensive scheme that sparked the Red Raiders' return to championship form.

"Our defense had been pretty solid through the years," Howard said, standing in the cold rain on the Rowan University field, holding the trophy that had eluded his grasp for seven seasons.

Howard was soaking wet as he talked about the "drought" - Paulsboro's inability to win a sectional title after capturing the program's 11th in 15 years in 2006.

Lots of things contributed to the Red Raiders' inability to bring that trophy back to "Titletown," as residents like to call Paulsboro.

Glassboro put together some sensational seasons, winning five Group 1 titles between 2007 and '13. Woodbury featured a remarkable defense in 2009. Penns Grove was one of the stronger small-school programs in South Jersey history in 2012.

But Howard, like all successful coaches, was more concerned with his own program. He believed the Red Raiders needed to become more explosive on offense, especially in big games.

And Howard doesn't do things halfway. He didn't tweak the offense. He overhauled it, switching to a no-huddle, spread approach after years and years of run-oriented attacks.

"We felt as though we needed to do something to produce more points," Howard said. "We felt like the games we lost, the big games, the people we were competing against, the tougher teams in the playoffs, our offense had been nonexistent, or minimal at best.

"We had to do something to change, to put some points on the board in big games."

It's easy to look back now and regard Howard's decision in the context of the championship season that included a 36-33 overtime victory over rival West Deptford in the annual Thanksgiving weekend game.

Paulsboro scored 419 points, averaging 34.9. Junior quarterback Carlton Aiken passed for 1,937 yards and 18 touchdowns. Seniors De'Shaun Burgess (604 receiving yards) and Theo Holloway (500) and junior John Pellegrini (588) flourished as receivers.

But nobody knew that was going to happen when Howard made the Big Change. He easily could have stuck with the status quo, blaming the "drought" on a down cycle in talent.

Instead, he made a bold move to create a sense of forward progress within the program. The new offense invigorated the players and the coaches as well, creating a challenging new approach that chased the stale air out of the program.

"We lost, 12-8, to Glassboro last year and there it was, the perfect scenario," Howard said. "The defense gave up 12 points and we still lost.

"We needed to do something to manufacture some points. We said, 'Let's go spread, we have the athletes, we have guys who can throw the ball.

"It was a good fit. Why not try it now? If not now, then when?

"We could always go back, but let's try something new and go forward. We could always go back."

The result was another special season and another piece of hardware for that crowded trophy case in the hallway of the old high school.

Paulsboro won its final five games. After a 6-0 victory over Woodbury in a torrential downpour on Nov. 1, the Red Raiders scored 47, 39, 36, and 21 points in three playoff triumphs as well as the overtime win over West Deptford.

Aiken threw the football 53 times on a cold Friday as Paulsboro rallied from deficits of 17-0 and 27-12 in beating a West Deptford team that entered the game with a 9-1 record.

"I think there were some years in the past when we threw the ball 50-60 times the whole season," Howard said.

The ironic twist was that Paulsboro didn't throw the football in the title game. Playing again in cold, hard rain, the Red Raiders relied on Burgess' running and some swarming defense to beat Salem by a 21-0 score.

It was a bit of a blast from the past and another reminder that the best coaches build teams that can win in more ways than one.

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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