Michigan's Juwan Howard named Associated Press men's college coach of the year

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Juwan Howard quickly made a name for himself at Michigan as a member of the Fab Five.

Since returning to his alma mater, it hasn’t taken him long to make a name for himself as a coach.

After leading Michigan to a 23-5 record, a Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearance in his second season at the helm, Howard was named The Associated Press men’s college basketball coach of the year on Thursday.

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard

Howard received 35 of 63 votes from a national media panel to take home the annual award, beating out Gonzaga’s Mark Few (16 votes), Baylor’s Scott Drew (five votes) and Alabama’s Nate Oats (five votes).

Howard, 48, is the second Michigan coach to earn the AP honor since it began in 1967. Bill Frieder won it in 1985. He’s also the second former AP All-American to be named AP coach of the year; former Minnesota coach Clem Haskins was the first in 1997.

“Without (the players), I wouldn’t be here,” Howard said during a virtual awards presentation on Zoom. “They're the ones that are out there sacrificing, competing, buying into the culture, buying into a head coach that pushed them to get uncomfortable, and they really accepted it.

“I'm happy that with all that I was able to do, they helped me become the best version of myself.”

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Howard also credited his coaching staff for this season’s accomplishments. He praised assistants Phil Martelli, Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley for being “selfless” and learning from one another.

“It was beautiful to see how we all were different types of personalities and egos, but we gave to the program and gave to inspiring these young men to go out there and compete at a high level,” Howard said.

After a solid first season under Howard, the Wolverines lost their starting point guard and center from last year’s squad and were picked sixth in the unofficial preseason Big Ten poll. They entered the season ranked No. 25 in the AP poll and were unranked in the coaches poll.

Michigan was far better than those projections. A team that consisted of six returners and six newcomers, the Wolverines looked like a national title contender much of the year as they won the program’s first Big Ten regular-season title since 2014, were ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the third time ever.

Even with senior forward Isaiah Livers sidelined during the NCAA Tournament with a foot injury, Michigan made a run and fell short of reaching the Final Four with Tuesday’s 51-49 loss to No. 11 seed UCLA.

“Coach Howard does an elite job,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said this week. “He doesn't do a good job. He does an elite job. When your team is as organized as they are on both ends and play as physical and as tough as they do, that's a reflection of their coach."

All along the way, Howard and the Wolverines had to navigate the challenges of playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, from testing daily to living in their own "self-bubble." It came with obstacles, like the two-week, state-prompted shutdown the team went through in the middle of Big Ten play despite never having a positive test during the season.

“The players were the stars and what made our season be a success,” Howard said. “You want to talk about what happens on the floor, but off the floor and what they did, it was amazing. If I was their age, I don't know if I would've been able to be as disciplined and smart, sacrifice like the way they did.”

Thursday’s award adds to Howard’s growing list of accolades. He was previously named the Big Ten coach of the year and the nation's top coach by The Athletic, Sporting News and U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He’s a finalist for other awards as well, including the Naismith men’s college coach of the year.

Howard has complied a 42-17 record and holds the program mark for most wins by a Michigan coach over his first two seasons.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins