Nick Howell joined the Vanderbilt football staff in January 2022 and serves as defensive coordinator.
His debut Commodore defense capitalized on opportunities, scoring four defensive touchdowns on the season. That total led the SEC and ranked 12th nationally. It was a marked improvement after a 2021 campaign that saw Vandy fail to record a defensive score.
Linebacker Anfernee Orji led the defensive side of the ball, recording an SEC-best 8.93 tackles per game. With 108 total tackles, Orji became the first Vanderbilt player to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons since 2003-05. Fellow senior Jaylen Mahoney tied the Vanderbilt single-game record with 5.0 tackles for loss against Missouri, also the most by a player in the SEC on the season.
The 2022 season also saw the continued emergence of De’Rickey Wright and CJ Taylor. Wright moved to safety and recorded two interceptions against No. 9 Ole Miss, making him the first Vandy player with two picks in a game since 2019. Taylor notched two of Vanderblit’s defensive touchdowns on the year. All told, the Commodores recorded at least one turnover in 10 of 12 games.
Howell came to Nashville from Virginia, where he served as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for the Cavaliers from 2016 to 2021. He helped lead Virginia to the 2019 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and an Orange Bowl berth. Jordan Mack, Charles Snowden, Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall are among the notables who have played under Howell. His 2018 Virginia defense was among the top 20 nationally in team passing efficiency, passing yards allowed, team defense and scoring defense.
The 2021 season saw the Cavaliers earn a Fenway Bowl berth (canceled due to Covid-19) while Howell’s defense stepped up when it mattered most. Virginia finished third in the ACC and 28th nationally in red zone defense. The unit was paced by Jackson, who led the ACC with 9.8 tackles per game, while Joey Blount was seventh in the conference with 7.9 tackles per contest. Blount and Anthony Johnson each recorded three interceptions on the year. While navigating the 2020 season and the Covid-19 pandemic, Snowden led ACC linebackers with .75 sacks per game and ranked 13th among the nation’s linebackers with six sacks.
In 2019, Virginia had a season to remember. The Cavaliers set a program record with 43 sacks en route to the ACC Championship game and Orang Bowl. Mack led all ACC linebackers with 7.5 sacks, while 27 of UVA’s 46 sacks were recorded by linebackers. The highlight of the season came as Virginia recorded six sacks in a win over rival Virginia Tech to clinch the ACC Coastal division title. The defense also led the ACC with three defensive touchdowns.
In 2018, Virginia finished among the nation’s top 20 in opponent passing efficiency (12th), passing yards allowed (16th), team defense (20th) and scoring defense (20th). The season culminated in a 28-0 victory over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl, marking the first time a non-SEC team recorded a shutout of an SEC team since 1975. Hall led the nation with 22 breakups and 24 passes defended, earning All-America honors from five outlets. Thornhill posted the best opponent passer rating when in coverage among ACC safeties and joined Hall in earning first team All-ACC accolades.
His 2017 defense included a secondary which ranked seventh in in the nation and second in the ACC against the pass, led by Quin Blanding, Brenton Nelson and Thornhill. Blanding capped the season as UVA’s all-time leading tackler with 495 career tackles, also the most ever by an ACC defensive back.
Howell joined head coach Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia following nine seasons on his staff at BYU. In 2015, Howell’s Cougar defense ranked sixth nationally in sacks per game, while his 2014 unit was 20th nationally in rushing defense.
His 2013 debut season as defensive coordinator at BYU saw the Cougars finish 12th nationally in yards per play, 16th in pass efficiency defense and 22nd in scoring defense, despite having to defend the fourth-most plays in the nation due to BYU’s up-tempo offense.
In 2012, Howell coached the secondary for a BYU defense that was third nationally in total defense and 10th in passing yards allowed. The 2011 Cougars were 15th in pass efficiency defense and 13th in overall defense.
Howell joined BYU in 2007 as a defensive intern following three seasons as head coach at Ben Lomond High School in Utah. He becan his career as an assistant coach at Sky View High School and Weber High School.
Howell graduated from Weber State and holds a master’s in education from the University of Phoenix. He and his wife, Brooke, have four children — Dakota, Kayla, Autumn and Zion.
The Howell File
Hometown: Ogden, Utah
High School: Ben Lomond (Odgen, Utah)
College: Weber State (history, 2005) & University of Phoenix (master’s in education, 2007)
Children: Dakota, Kayla, Autumn and Zion
2002 • Sky View High School (Utah) • Defensive Line
2003 • Weber High School (Utah) • Defensive Coordinator
2004 • Ben Lomond High School (Utah) • Head Coach
2005 • Ben Lomond High School (Utah) • Head Coach
2006 • Ben Lomond High School (Utah) • Head Coach
2007 • BYU • Defensive Intern
2008 • BYU • Defensive Graduate Assistant
2009 • BYU • Defensive Graduate Assistant
2010 • BYU • Outside Linebackers
2011 • BYU • Secondary and Special Teams
2012 • BYU • Secondary and Special Teams
2013 • BYU • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2014 • BYU • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2015 • BYU • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2016 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2017 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2018 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2019 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2020 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2021 • Virginia • Defensive Coordinator and Secondary
2022 • Vanderbilt • Defensive Coordinator
2007 • BYU • Las Vegas Bowl
2008 • BYU • Las Vegas Bowl
2009 • BYU • Las Vegas Bowl
2010 • BYU • New Mexico Bowl
2011 • BYU • Armed Forces Bowl
2012 • BYU • Poinsettia Bowl
2013 • BYU • Fight Hunger Bowl
2014 • BYU • Miami Beach Bowl
2015 • BYU • Las Vegas Bowl
2017 • Virginia • Military Bowl
2018 • Virginia • Belk Bowl
2019 • Virginia • Orange Bowl
2021 • Virginia • Fenway Bowl (canceled)