Immediately following his playing career, he was the third base coach with the Yankees for ten seasons. He then spent one year as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Florida State. As a manager at the major league level, Howser never finished lower than second place during his seven-year managerial career.
New York Yankees (1978, 1980)
He made his debut in 1978, managing one game with the Yankees between Billy Martin's and Bob Lemon's first tours as skipper in the Bronx. In 1980, he returned from Florida State to become a full-time manager of the Yanks, taking them to the AL Eastern Division championship with a 103–59 record but losing three consecutive games to the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. Howser was one of the few Yankee managers who refused to let owner George Steinbrenner push him around. Steinbrenner had a rule about facial hair, which Reggie Jackson would skirt around from time to time in 1980. Howser refused to correct Jackson because he thought Jackson's facial hair was unimportant given the year Jackson was having; however, Jackson later relented and shaved out of respect for Howser. Also, when Steinbrenner would call the manager's office before or after games while Howser was meeting with coaches or reporters, Howser would pick up the phone, say "I'm busy!", and hang up. Steinbrenner, however, got the last word. In Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS, Yankee third base coachMike Ferraro waved Willie Randolph home on a double by Bob Watson with two outs in the top of the eighth inning and the Yankees down 3–2. Randolph was thrown out at the plate on a relay throw by George Brett, prompting Steinbrenner to jump out of his seat and shout what appeared to be profanities on live national television. Steinbrenner wanted Ferraro fired on the spotafter the game, but Howser refused. The Yankees lost the ALCS in three games, and Steinbrenner fired Howser shortly after that. In the 2007 ESPN produced mini-seriesThe Bronx Is Burning, Howser was portrayed by actor Max Casella.
Kansas City Royals (1981-1986)
The next year, Kansas City—his postseason rival on multiple occasions in previous seasons—hired Howser to manage the last 33 games of the strike-shortened 1981 season. Under Howser, the Royals finished second in 1982 and 1983. Prior to the 1984 season, with their clubhouse ravaged by drug problems, the Royals started disassembling their team and starting over. Kansas City expected 1984 to be a rebuilding year, but Howser guided the young team to a division title. The Royals were defeated by the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, three games to none. The following year, Howser guided the Royals to their first World Series title. The Royals reached the World Series by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays in the AmericanLeague Championship Series, which was Toronto's first postseason appearance. The Royals then went on to defeat the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. In both the ALCS and World Series, the Royals won each series by overcoming a 3–1 deficit to take the last three games.
As manager of the defending AL champion Royals, Howser managed the 1986 All-Star Game at the Astrodome in Houston. Broadcasters noticed he was messing up signals when he changed pitchers, and Howser later admitted he felt sick before the game. It was the last game he would manage in the Major Leagues, as he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery. Howser guided the AL to a 3-2 victory, starting a 30-year stretch that has seen the junior circuit go 22-6-1 in the Mid-Summer Classic after going 2-21 from 1963 through 1985.
Howser attempted a comeback during spring training of 1987 with the Royals, but he quickly found he was physically too weak and abandoned the attempt in late February when Billy Gardner took over. Three months later, he died at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City and was buried in Tallahassee, Florida. Two pitchers from his 1981 Royals team later died of brain cancer: Dan Quisenberry in 1998 and Ken Brett in 2003. Howser was survived by his wife Nancy and twin daughters from a previous marriage.
On July 3, 1987, Howser's number 10 became the first number retired by the Kansas City Royals. Also that year, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce established the Dick Howser Trophy, college baseball's equivalent of college football's Heisman Trophy, in Howser's honor. Florida State University's baseball team plays on Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium, named in his honor, and he is honored with a bronze bust on the stadium grounds. The Royals also commissioned a new bronze statue for their Outfield Experience to cap off the end of Kauffman Stadium renovations in 2009. The statue was revealed in a dedication ceremony on Opening Day, April 10, 2009.