COLUMBIA — Going unnoticed is probably not the best way to end up working as a broadcaster, but that is what the newest voice of Missouri football did in his previous profession.
Former Missouri football player and NFL veteran Howard Richards will replace John Kadlec as the color analyst for the Tigers football broadcasts next season, but he has spent many years working around the globe for the CIA.
Richards was an offensive lineman at Mizzou from 1977-1980 and was a Second Team All-American as a senior. He became the first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1981.
Richards played six seasons for the Cowboys, winning four NFC East Division titles and playing in two consecutive NFC Championship games. He played one year with the Seattle Seahawks before retiring from football after the 1987 season.
After leaving the NFL, Richards returned to school to finish his undergraduate degree in communication with an emphasis in radio and television in 1988. He said he never envisioned working for the CIA or in security.
“It came completely out of the blue,” Richards said in a phone interview.
Richards was attracted to the agency one morning after seeing a full-page recruitment ad in The Dallas Morning News for a communications job at the CIA.
Richards had sent out tapes and resumes trying to get into broadcasting, but he never received an offer he liked. At the same time, he had been accepted into a sports marketing graduate program at Ohio University, but thought he could always come back to school after work.
“I got that offer (with the CIA) so I took it and jumped in and thought I’d stay for a couple years and ended up staying for 13,” Richards said. “I guess I enjoyed the work a little bit too much.”
Richards said he took the job because it was better than any other offer he had at the time, but also to dispel a stereotype of someone who was just a jock and maybe didn’t go to class. He started college in the engineering school. After changing majors, he did not have enough of the right credits to get his communication degree before he was drafted by the NFL.
“I figured that by working there (the CIA), it would give my resume and my background a lot more meat,” Richards said. “That’s the real reason I did it. I wanted to be taken more seriously as an employable person that had some substance.”
When Richards first heard of the broadcast opening at Missouri, he was out of the country and took to Facebook to reconnect with those around the university and enter the application process.
“Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is not some place you go to vacation,” Richards said. “It was a business trip.”
Richards currently runs a private security business, SevenZero Ltd., and travels around the world — often covertly — providing around-the-clock protection for his clients.
“Essentially what we do is, we have clients that we support when they travel overseas. We provide security, logistical support, administrative support, so they can take their whole operation on the road if they want to,” Richards said.
Richards said his business serves private individuals or companies, and he has traveled to between 45 and 50 countries during his security work with the CIA and his own firm.
The business opportunity came from a former supervisor at the CIA, from which Richards retired in 2003. With the CIA he served many different security positions, including running protection for four different CIA directors, including current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Richards doesn’t like the term bodyguard and said his job as a protective officer is much more professional — similar to that of the Secret Service on presidential detail.
Richards said multiple times that he could not go in to specifics about his security work but that he has served in Israel in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“All I can tell you is that we had a staff, the number of people of that staff I can’t disclose that, but we have 24-hour coverage, and we covered everything you could possibly imagine. So our guys are never without protection, never lulled, or never not being under the watchful eye of a security officer,” Richards said.
“Our schedule is never public. Everything is done in a much more low-profile manner. Often times we go undetected. It’s a requirement that we do things often out of the high visibility of the public.”
Richards said many parts of the Middle East are still dangerous places.
“There are inherent risks with what we do,” he said.
He said his scariest experience came near the end of his tour when there was an explosion a few blocks from where he lived in Israel in an area his then 2-year-old daughter frequented with her babysitter while Richards was at work.
His daughter was safe, but for her safety, he knew it was time to leave.
Richards’ only significant injury came in a training exercise when a bullet ricocheted and grazed his face, but he said many times he was in dangerous situations.
“There was one instance in one of the Palestinian territories where we were told to vacate the premises because there was going to be a missile attack,” he said. “And there was, within 15 minutes after we left.”
“There were times you would hear gunfire and bullets flying,” said Richards, who almost always wore a bullet-proof vest and traveled in armored vehicles. “You took the necessary precautions to protect yourself. While there were dangerous areas, I still felt that the things I was doing were the things necessary to make sure I walked out of there at night in one piece.”
Richards said he approaches his own security business with the same attitude, and though the places he travels to are usually less dangerous, he still wears a vest from time to time.
Richards still keeps in contact with many of his friends and teammates, but that does not mean they always knew exactly what he was up to.
Former Missouri quarterback Phil Bradley, who also started his football career with the Tigers in 1977, kept in contact with Richards throughout Richards’ time in the NFL and has tried to stay in contact since Richards moved on. But Bradley never had conversations with Richard's about his work.
“He was able to say this is what he was doing, but I don’t think he was really at liberty to be in touch with a lot of people,” Bradley said by phone of Richards’ work overseas.
“I heard he was over there doing CIA stuff, but again, I would say for his own security, he probably doesn’t really want a whole lot of people knowing a whole lot about what he was doing.”
Bradley said he would like to catch up with Richards if possible.
“If time allows it, and if he’s able to discuss it, I’m sure he has a lot of interesting and fascinating stories, and I would look forward to hearing some of them,” Bradley said.
Richards said he is excited about being back around MU and being able to show his daughter, now 12, around campus. In addition to being closer and more active at home, Richards is looking forward to new opportunities in broadcast.
“It’s time to really focus on a new type of career,” he said. “The type of work I do, it’s a young man's job.”
Richards, who turns 52 this year, said he is in good physical shape, but he knows the work he does takes a toll on his body, which had already been banged up in football. That included two quadricep injuries that forced him to retire from the NFL.
His security business will be put on hold during the football season and re-evaluated after it is over. He said he is happy to be back around college football after experiencing his first game in nearly 23 years at Missouri's victory over Oklahoma last season.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“Howard is a professional guy and he’s going to do a professional job,” Bradley said. “He’s going to come prepared and ready to do the absolute best job he can do. That I do know.”