Last Monday, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel experienced a drastically different day at the office.
When Manuel discovered John Beilein agreed to become the Cleveland Cavaliers’ next head coach, he locked eyes with a daunting task. The timing of Beilein’s bombshell left Manuel in an unenvious predicament with a program’s fate riding on his decision.
For Manuel, the top priority was clear.
“I want to get it right,” Manuel said when asked about the timeline for replacing Beilein. “While I’d like it to be done ASAP, I’m also going to take the time to make sure that we find the right person for Michigan.”
A week and a half later, the coaching search that could very well define his career has come to an end. According to Jeff Goodman of Stadium, Juwan Howard agreed to a five-year deal to become the 17th Michigan basketball coach in program history on Wednesday. Michigan has not made an announcement yet.
Following a stellar college career as a member of Michigan’s Fab Five, the Washington Bullets selected Howard with the fifth overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. Howard averaged 13.4 points in 1,208 games during a 19-year NBA career before retiring in 2013 to become an assistant coach for the Miami Heat.
Is Howard the perfect heir to Beilein’s throne? Nobody is. Beilein revived a program that was in its darkest hour. He took the reins of a program that hadn’t been to a Sweet 16 since 1994-1995 and made it the norm. He achieved the highest level of success without bending — let alone breaking — a single rule in an era earmarked by college basketball corruption. For that, he will forever be a legend in Ann Arbor.
And when it came time to select a successor, Manuel got it right.
Of all the candidates that emerged in the wake of Beilein’s departure, Howard’s name was the one in the thick of the discussion throughout. While he’s never coached college basketball before, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley have shown him the ropes of coaching over the last six years.
Howard’s resume shows that he can succeed as a college coach. He knows the fundamentals and mechanics of the game as good as anyone. Under Beilein, Michigan became the player
development capital of the nation. Given Howard’s playing career, he can relate to college players, their aspirations and the emotions of playing on a national stage — all while maintaining a great basketball mind.
But 19 years in the NBA and another six wearing a suit on Miami’s bench kept Howard from showcasing his capabilities on the recruiting trail. At Michigan, he’ll be tasked with stepping up to the plate in that aspect of the job from the moment he’s introduced. With four-star forward Jalen Wilson’s (2019) commitment currently hanging in the balance, Howard can show promise by swaying Wilson to reaffirm his initial pledge.
Howard’s absence of experience on the recruiting trail is my biggest qualm about the hire. By the same token, it’s also the easiest to put to bed. Recruiting is a skill — one that could admittedly take Howard a few years to learn. But with his personality and background, he could score solid commitments off the bat.
As Beilein proved, recruiting pales in comparison to player development and culture. Beilein never landed a McDonald’s All-American, yet still took U-M to eight of the last nine NCAA Tournaments. If the Wolverines can continue to win under Howard, it’ll only make recruiting easier.
Above all, Howard is a guy who will feel comfortable with the pressure of coaching in Ann Arbor. Beilein left this program knocking on the doorstep of a national championship. That, coupled with the Wolverines’ fanbase, makes it a high-pressure gig from day one.
This vacancy didn’t present itself because the marriage between Beilein and Michigan fell apart — rather, it was quite the opposite. While most coaches inherit a program at a low point following a firing, Howard is set to return to his alma mater with expectations at an all-time high. Of all the realistic candidates, he emerged as the one best-suited to embrace such a state.
I, for one, didn’t like seeing the term “Michigan man” tossed around during the hiring process. I don’t think it’s possible to hire a Michigan man. The title is earned by achieving consistent success while embodying the University’s values. Beilein, Bo Schembechler and, though she is female, softball coach Carol Hutchins have earned the title for doing exactly that.
The honor cannot be bestowed upon Howard before he even coaches a game at Crisler, establishes a culture or makes a deep run in March. But, with that in mind, there’s no better time to prove he deserves it.
Dash can be reached via Twitter at @danieldash428 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.