After John Beilein's departure, Michigan has turned to Juwan Howard as its next coach. Here's the path ahead for him. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Juwan Howard had just finished pregame warmups with one of the Miami Heat players and was approached with a question about the Fab Five.
It hasn’t been an unusual occurrence over the last couple of decades for Howard, who was one of the quieter members of the famed Michigan quintet. For the most part, he left the talking to Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, while he played in the NBA for 19 seasons and was an assistant coach with the Heat for the last six.
“You have to ask Jalen about that,” said Howard, then an assistant coach with the Heat, seeming more interested in helping the next big man get ready for the game than living in the 1990s.
And that’s been Howard’s calling card for as long as he’s been in the national spotlight.
More action and less talk.
On Wednesday, Howard, 46, was named Michigan’s head coach, replacing John Beilein — the school’s all-time winningest coach — who headed to Cleveland last week to lead the Cavaliers.
Before Howard had accepted the job, the talk already had started in mainstream media and on social media: Why not choose someone with head-coaching experience? Where are the bigger names?
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel did the best he could under the circumstances, following Beilein’s abrupt departure. There wasn’t a good chance to get one of the top names, like the Celtics’ Brad Stevens, or one of the top names around the NCAA. The calendar for college basketball is a bit unforgiving and Michigan couldn’t go very long without a head coach.
How will Howard do in his first gig as a head coach?
It’s anybody’s guess, but the highest priority is getting a very competent group of assistant coaches around him, who are familiar with both the landscapes at Michigan, the Big Ten and national recruiting, especially with a crucial period in June approaching.
One name that should be on Howard’s list is Bacari Alexander, a former Michigan assistant from 2010-16 under Beilein. Current assistants Saddi Washington and Luke Yaklich also will get deserved consideration in trying to maintain the continuity of a program that Beilein helped lift back to national prominence.
Michigan alums and fans have reason for concern; in the past, some have advocated for brand names as head coaches. In football, Rich Rodriguez and current coach Jim Harbaugh were highly coveted, but didn’t produce nearly as much as Beilein, who had two Big Ten titles and two appearances in the national championship game in his 12 seasons.
When Beilein was hired in 2007, he wasn’t a high-profile name, though he was highly regarded for his player development and X’s and O’s. Arriving a few months before the football coach, Beilein still was in Rodriguez’s shadow; he was that “other” coach from West Virginia.
He outlasted Rodriguez and outperformed Harbaugh.
Michigan has been and always will be a football school. But basketball is important too. Although Howard may not have been the first choice, he’ll be given every chance to succeed. Selecting a suitable staff will be important, letting him focus on recruiting and coaching, and leaving many of the other elements to the rest of his staff.
Howard was one of the best centers in school history, the steak that went with the sizzle of the Fab Five in their two national championship game appearances. He’ll need some help on his coaching staff — and some time to adjust from a rabid fan base — some of whom may not realize for a while what they lost in Beilein.
Howard doesn’t have experience as a head coach but in his time with the Heat, he’s garnered the respect of the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who supported Howard in getting the job.
That, too, is just talk.
Howard will need some time to adjust and find his bearings at the high-stakes Big Ten table and will be judged on how he recruits. The first task will be retaining as many current players and staff as he can. Taking over a squad that lost three players — Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole — to the NBA draft isn’t an enviable starting point, but with a five-year contract, Howard will be able to stabilize things and show his value.
The work is just beginning, but Howard is well suited for it.
And that’s something to talk about.