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What history tells Howard: Ex-NBA players jump to college coaching with mixed results

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Juwan Howard

Juwan Howard, a former Fab Five member and Miami Heat assistant, has had plenty of success throughout his career.

But when it comes to former NBA players stepping down to coach in the college ranks, success is far from a sure thing.

Howard is the latest ex-pro to return to his alma mater when he agreed to a five-year deal with Michigan Wednesday to replace John Beilein, who left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.

While the inherited situation varies from program to program, history doesn't favor Howard as the flops outnumber the flourishes. Yet, only time will tell if he’ll be able to buck the trend.

Here’s a rundown of how other NBA-to-college guys have fared:

Clyde Drexler, Houston 

The Cougars hoped Drexler would lead the program’s resurgence following his Hall of Fame playing career. Instead, Drexler’s return to his alma mater was short-lived as he never won more than 10 games in a season.Record: 19-39 (two seasons; 1998-2000)

Mike Dunleavy Sr., Tulane

After spending roughly two decades in the NBA with head jobs with the L.A. Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and L.A. Clippers, Dunleavy took his first college gig with Tulane in 2016. The result? Three underwhelming seasons that led to Dunleavy being fired after going 4-27 in Year 3. Record: 24-69 (three seasons; 2016-19)

Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown

Ewing returned to his alma mater in 2017 and went .500 in his first season. The Hoyas were in the NCAA Tournament conversation before they dropped nine of their final 11 games to finish with 15 wins. In his second season, Ewing guided Georgetown to top-25 wins over Villanova and Marquette, and to the program’s first winning record in four seasons, but is still searching for his first NCAA bid. Record: 34-29 (two seasons; 2017-19)

Penny Hardaway, Memphis

The former Tigers great made his return to Memphis without any experience as a Division I head coach or assistant and won 22 games — the program’s most since 2013-14 — in Year 1. As a prominent youth coach with many AAU connections, Hardaway’s 2019 recruiting class ranks No. 1 in the nation and features four top-50 recruits, headlined by five-star prospects James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. Record: 22-14 (one season; 2018-19)

Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State

When it comes to NBA-to-college success stories, Hoiberg stands alone. He only had NBA front office experience before he returned to his alma mater in 2010 and turned things around. He rattled off four consecutive 20-win seasons, four trips to the NCAA Tournament and won back-to-back Big 12 tournament titles before leaving to coach the Chicago Bulls. He has since returned to the college after being hired by Nebraska in March. Record: 115-56 (five seasons; 2010-15)

Bobby Hurley, Buffalo/Arizona State

Hurley racked up 42 wins and won back-to-back Mid-American Conference regular-season titles in his two seasons at Buffalo. He also won the conference tournament and led the Bulls to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. Since heading west to Arizona State, Hurley has recorded at least 20 wins and reached the NCAA Tournament twice in his four seasons at the helm. Record: 115-78 (six seasons; 2013-19)

Avery Johnson, Alabama

Following NBA head coaching stints with the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets, Alabama hoped Johnson’s arrival would turn them into a perennial contender in the Southeastern Conference. Instead, it turned into a four-year run of mediocrity with one trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 during NBA lottery pick Collin Sexton’s lone year on campus. Record: 75-62 (four seasons; 2015-19)

Dan Majerle

Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon

The former Central Michigan product has helped Grand Canyon make a successful transition to Division I sports. After going .500 in his first year in 2013-14, the Antelopes have had a winning record every year since, including four straight seasons with at least 20 wins. Majerle’s squads have never finished worst than third in the Western Athletic Conference but have yet to win a regular-season or conference tournament crown. Record: 123-72 (six seasons; 2013-19)

Danny Manning, Tulsa/Wake Forest

After guiding Tulsa to the Conference USA regular-season and tournament championships and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 seasons in Year 2, Manning made the move to Wake Forest, where success has been harder to come by. In five seasons with the Demon Deacons, Manning has made has the NCAA Tournament and recorded more than 13 wins just once. Record: 103-122 overall (seven seasons; 2012-19)

Donyell Marshall, Central Connecticut

The 15-year NBA journeyman took over a program that had won just nine games over the previous two seasons. Marshall won six games in his first year and more than doubled that to 14 wins in Year 2, which was the team’s highest win total in seven seasons, before it dipped back down to 11 this past season. Record: 31-61 (three seasons; 2016-19)

Chris Mullin, St. John’s

Mullin lacked any head-coaching experience before he began his second act at his alma mater. Mullin struggled to reproduce the results from when he starred at the school, failing to crack double-digits wins in Year 1 and finishing below .500 his first three seasons. After leading the Red Storm to 21 wins — tied for the program’s most this decade — and an appearance in an NCAA First Four game, he stepped down this offseason. Record: 59-73 (four seasons; 2015-19)

Terry Porter, Portland

Porter has seen his numbers in the win column decline during his time with the Pilots, going from 11 wins in Year 1 to 10 wins in Year 2 to seven wins this past season. To make matters worse, Portland became the first West Coast Conference team since 2012 to go winless in conference play. Record: 28-69 (three seasons; 2016-19)

Mark Price, Charlotte

Price landed his first college head-coaching job more than 15 years after his professional career had wrapped up. It wasn’t worth the wait. The 49ers posted losing records in Price’s first two years before he was fired nine games into his third season in December 2017. Record: 30-42 (three seasons; 2015-17)

Damon Stoudamire, Pacific

The former Portland Trail Blazers star spent time as an assistant at Arizona and Memphis before accepted the job at Pacific in 2016. After inheriting a team coming off an eight-win season, he made progress his first two seasons with 11 and 14 wins in Years 1 and 2, respectively. However, Stoudamire wasn’t able to continue those strides as the Tigers posted with another 14-win campaign and ninth-place finish in the 10-team WCC last season. Record: 39-58 (three seasons; 2016-19)

Isiah Thomas, FIU

The Detroit Pistons legend dropped down to the college after rough coaching stops with the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. And things didn’t get any better during his time at Florida International. Thomas was fired following a disastrous stint where he failed to top 10 wins twice and his best season was an 11-19 campaign. Record: 26-65 (three seasons; 2009-12)


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins