The Michigan basketball program is entering a new era by harkening back to an old one.
Miami Heat assistant coach and former Fab Five star Juwan Howard has been hired to be the Wolverines’ next head coach, as first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports and officially confirmed by Michigan spokesman Tom Wywrot on Wednesday. Howard is set to replace John Beilein, who accepted a head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers last Monday after 12 seasons in Ann Arbor. It will be a five-year deal, according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium.
Howard will be the 17th men’s basketball coach in school history.
Howard spent 19 years as a player in the NBA, making one All Star team and winning two NBA titles. Upon his retirement in 2013, Howard was hired by the Miami Heat, where he has since held an assistant coaching position. In recent weeks, his name has popped up as one of interest for NBA head coaching openings. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard interviewed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the franchise’s head coaching position, a job which ultimately went to Ryan Saunders.
“I’m happy for Juwan, Jenine and his family, and feel he is deserving of this opportunity to coach at the University of Michigan,” said Heat president Pat Riley in a press release. “He is going back to a school and a conference in which he is revered. I think it is a great step forward for him and the University, and I wish him nothing but the best, because that’s what he’s given us.”
Added Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra: “Juwan is an absolute star as a person, player and coach. I feel he is more than ready. He is a terrific leader and mentor, which translates very well to the collegiate level. While we are losing a valuable member of our staff and a great friend, I am happy for him and his family. He will forever be a champion and part of the HEAT family and I am excited to see him take the next step.”
Most around campus, though, still associate Howard with his days wearing the maize and blue, as a key cog in the Fab Five squads of the early 1990s that still hold strong cultural significance at the school. Howard averaged over 20 points per game in 1993-94, his last college season.
Fellow Fab Five teammates Jalen Rose and Jimmy King have been among Howard’s stanchest public advocates since Beilein announced his departure — which certainly portends a fully-healed relationship between the Fab Five and the athletic department.
“There’s a guy named Juwan Howard that’s from Chicago,” Rose said on Get Up!, his morning ESPN show, last Friday. “He’s going to be able to help recruit that market. All-American in high school, came to the University of Michigan and was a member of the Fab Five. He was the first person to sign their Letter of Intent. In theory, he also helped recruit each one of us. He was always the adult in the room amongst us.”
“I think Juwan is the guy who can pick up the torch and carry it even further,” King said, per the Detroit Free Press, at the third annual Champions for Change Gala at Crisler Center to benefit the ChadTough Foundation.
The program has gone through ebbs and flows since the early ‘90s, but in many ways it is still tethered to that group; the hiring of Howard is a nod to that. For that reason, he will begin his tenure with some goodwill among fans and baked-in cache with recruits.
That’s not to suggest the task will be easy.
Howard will have to hit the ground running — his hiring is merely the first piece in reconfiguring this offseason puzzle. He might seek to keep assistant coaches Luke Yaklich and Saddi Washington, both of whom were rumored to be in contention for the job themselves. Yaklich interviewed with Texas coach Shaka Smart last week, according to a report from 247Sports, and is widely credited with a Michigan defense that has ranked in the top-three nationally in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency. Howard’s first day on the job will be his first as a college or a head coach in any capacity, only heightening the importance of a solidified, experienced staff around him.
Losing Yaklich or Washington would also likely deepen the recruiting hole Howard will inherit. Jalen Wilson, ranked No. 50 nationally in the 247sports composite rankings, announced last Thursday that he would be re-opening his recruitment after signing his letter of intent to Beilein and Michigan in November. And even before Wilson’s decision, the Wolverines’ roster was in flux after the departures of Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews to the NBA Draft. Beilein had been scouring the late recruitment and transfer market to fill holes left in the roster, particularly along the wing. Wilson’s decision sent that depth from “thin” to “dire” in a hurry. Building a roster for 2019 — no less, one that could contend at the level to which fans have become accustomed — will be Howard’s immediate challenge.
The long-term challenge? Sustaining the success Beilein left, after cultivating the greatest era in program history. No small feat, either.
But it’s a challenge he and Michigan are clearly ready to take on. Over 25 years since leaving campus, Juwan Howard is back, set to pave a new path in Michigan basketball history.
“We have found someone with high integrity, great character and a coach who has unbelievable knowledge of the game of basketball,” said Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel. “Juwan has proven himself to be a tremendous leader, a wonderful communicator and a developer of talent. We couldn’t have asked for a better role model for the young men in our program. We are excited to welcome back a member of the family to Ann Arbor.”
This story is developing and will be updated as we learn more.