Juwan Howard was introduced as the new Michigan basketball coach at Crisler Center. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — With Michigan basketball and the Fab Five mixed in a conversation, the topic of the Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993 generally comes up.
At Thursday’s press conference to introduce Fab Five member Juwan Howard as the new basketball coach, it was a question waiting to happen — and athletic director Warde Manuel was ready with an answer.
“Juwan Howard is hired to coach our basketball team and lead us to tremendous success,” Manuel said. “He’s not here to reunite and raise banners — that’s not what I hired him to do.”
Howard, who was hired last week to succeed John Beilein, was emotional at the start of the press conference, following a big hug from former Fab Five teammate Jimmy King, who was present to support Howard.
Howard marveled at Michigan’s tradition, but neither Howard nor King wanted to delve too much into the thorny issue of restoring the banners that were taken down as a result of Michigan’s wrongdoing in the Ed Martin scandal that implicated Chris Webber and others of taking money illegally from Martin.
As part of the punishment for the scandal, Michigan self-imposed sanctions, including removing the banners.
“The issue with the banners is an issue of the decision the university made, consistent with other NCAA practices, to take down banners because of the issues that were found during that time,” Manuel said. “This is not about me not respecting, wanting or desiring the Fab Five. I welcome all the members of those teams back, including the Fab Five.
“I love those guys — watched them, cheered for them and want them to be back.”
Webber has remained distant from the university, as part of the sanctions from the scandal. There still is some acrimony between Webber and the rest of the Fab Five, and Webber hasn’t been around much, aside from returning to Michigan Stadium as a guest of football coach Jim Harbaugh last season.
It’s highly unlikely that Michigan will be able to restore the Final Four banners from that era, but there has been some discussion about raising a Fab Five banner to celebrate the period and to acknowledge the Fab Five’s contributions and impact.
“I look up there and I see those beautiful banners and I say, ‘Michigan has a rich tradition.’ (1992 and ’93) were fun times — Jimmy can attest to this,” Howard said. “We worked extremely hard to make it all possible and sacrificed a lot, though a lot of adversity, and earned every minute of it.
“(Raising a banner) is something on the table that we as a staff — myself, Warde and (Michigan president) Mark (Schlissel) will definitely revisit. When? I don’t know. I can’t make any promises; that’s all I can say at this point.”
Jimmy King, Juwan Howard's teammate at Michigan, has been a big supporter of the Wolverines, Howard and the Fab Five. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Manuel was adamant about focusing on Howard and not on the Fab Five or the controversial banners.
“This is not about the banners. That’s a university decision that was made. We may think about it in a different way, but we took them down permanently as a part of expunging the records, not only from that season but from other seasons,” Manuel said. “Jimmy, to his credit, in all our conversations, has never said he wanted a Fab Five banner. That’s not what they’ve been asking about or talking about.
“I understand their frustration with what the university did back then, but it’s nothing we can change — we just can’t. We can’t put the records back in the book and decide on our own to do that. We said we were going to take the banners down. Let’s let (Howard) move on from that.”
For his part, King didn’t want to overshadow Howard’s introductory press conference with talk of the Fab Five. Creating a new banner focused on the Fab Five and not the past Final Four appearances is a conversation to be had, but one that will include Howard, King, Manuel and Schlissel, at some point.
“It’s an ancillary topic; that’s something that it’s in the background. If it comes up — which I think it will later on down the road — then cool,” King said. “Right now, it’s about Juwan Howard establishing himself as the head basketball coach and the program moving forward and continuing success.”