It stuck out like that proverbial sore thumb. This game would be the giant elephant in the room nobody wanted to talk about.
When Michigan’s nonconference schedule was released in September, there was no way the team didn’t notice tomorrow’s road trip to Boston to face Harvard (3-4).
The Crimson have a new head coach this season that Wolverine fans may be familiar with.
His finger twirl to initiate the motion offense became synonymous with players clumsily handling the ball far from the basket before forcing a desperate heave when the shot clock was about to expire. He stomped his feet seemingly every possession, trying to inspire his team’s defensive effort. And he helped stabilize a program that was in disarray following the fallout of a disastrous scandal.
That’s right, former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker – who was fired last March after amassing a 109-83 record over six seasons in Ann Arbor – was named Harvard’s head coach last April.
Since Amaker coached or recruited every single player on this year’s Michigan (3-4) squad, his presence on the opposing bench makes tomorrow’s game an unavoidable topic of discussion in the Wolverine locker room.
“It’s going to be awkward,” senior Ron Coleman said. “He coached me for three years, and I still have respect for him.”
Amaker actually scheduled the game as part of a home-and-home series that began last season when Michigan defeated Harvard, 82-50, at Crisler Arena. At the time, there was no telling he would end up coaching the home team both times.
It’s not like Amaker is completely removed from Michigan, though. Some players say they still have some form of contact with their former coach.
The parents of freshman K’Len Morris still talk with Amaker. Freshman Manny Harris said he would give the man who brought him to Ann Arbor a high five before stepping on the court. Sophomore Zack Gibson wants to have a couple words with the coach who convinced him to transfer from Rutgers after his freshman season.
“(Amaker) is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet,” Morris said. “So he’s always going to keep in contact with the people that he made friendships with. I mean, he did bring us all here.”
He may have brought them to Ann Arbor, but they also played a part in his dismissal and subsequent move to Boston.
While no players would ever directly criticize their former coach, some did discreetly insinuate their displeasure with the way Amaker ran the program last season. In praising the new style of Michigan coach John Beilein, it became clear dissatisfaction was rampant a year ago.
“Attitude and effort were definitely missing last year,” said sophomore DeShawn Sims at Michigan Media Day in October. “A lot was demanded from us, but there weren’t really any consequences. Coach Beilein came in right away and did things that will lead up to us winning – very little things. Last year it wasn’t established that way, so our mindsets are totally changed.”
Lost amid the talk of Amaker’s reunion with his former team is just how important tomorrow’s game is for Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off losses in four of their past five games and are in desperate search of a victory after falling below .500 for the first time the season.
For this reason, Beilein doesn’t feel the need to mention Amaker to his players.
“I won’t even address it,” Beilein said. “It’s an away game. Let’s go try and get a win and try and get better.”
The problem is that giant elephant will still be in the room whether the Wolverines want to discuss it or not. This time, he’s taken the shape of a finger twirling, foot stomping former coach.