Juwan Howard was named as the new Michigan men’s basketball coach on Wednesday, replacing the departed John Beilein, who took the Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching job earlier this month.
Howard is best known for his three years of playing for Michigan as part of the heralded Fab Five, along with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. That recruiting class catapulted the Wolverines into the national spotlight with their attire and antics, as well as their basketball, which helped Michigan to the national title game in 1992 and 1993.
But Michigan’s decision to bring back a member of one of it’s most memorable teams as Beilein’s replacement wasn’t a good decision. It was more of a public relations move than a coaching hire.
Any Michigan fan that remembers the Fab Five fondly — and there are some who don’t considering the scandal that caused those title-game runs to be vacated — has to be excited about the presence of that team around the program. Problem is, none of those players are suiting up for Michigan anymore. Howard will be coaching the players that are on the team, but he won’t be scoring points or grabbing rebounds again.
Of course, the excitement is also that Howard can give the program’s recruiting a boost. But can he? The Fab Five was around in the early 1990s. Any recruit that Howard will be going after likely didn’t see him play for the Wolverines, and some hadn’t even been born when he wore the Maize and Blue.
And, no offense to Howard, but he has to be considered the least flashy of those five players. Webber had the strength and slam dunks, Rose had the ball-handling and passing, and King and Jackson were high-flying wing players. Howard? He did the dirty work. Rebounding, passing from the high post, defending down low. Not exactly YouTube highlight reel stuff.
That being said, Howard may be able to relate to younger players more than Beilein could. Hard to say. But does getting McDonald’s All-Americans guarantee success? Absolutely not. Just ask Mike Krzyzewski. Or John Calipari. Or, for that matter, Beilein.
The last Michigan boss has two NCAA Tournament title game trips on his resume. How many McDonald’s All-Americans did he successfully recruit in his 13 seasons with the Wolverines? Zero.
The Howard hire certainly brings flash and swag to the Michigan program again. But is that the purpose of the hire, or is it to try to win games, titles, championships? If Howard wins a conference title or national title at Michigan, it will be his first at the school. The Fab Five never won the Big Ten Conference title and came up short in both of their title-game appearances.
A Better Option
So who should Michigan have hired? One person who certainly deserved a lot of consideration is Beilein’s assistant with the Wolverines, Luke Yaklich. Yaklich helped the Wolverines develop their defense that helped the team lead the Big Ten in scoring defense for the first time since 1964 in 2017-18.
The 43-year-old Yaklich is an assistant coach who has paid his dues, spending two years with Michigan after four years at Illinois State, where he helped the Redbirds to three postseason appearances. Prior to that, he was the head coach at three different Illinois high schools, so he’s run a program before in high school and has been part of running a program in college.
Howard? After his 19-year NBA playing career ended in 2013, Howard immediately joined the Miami Heat coaching staff, serving as an assistant to head coach Erik Spoelstra. So, other than his three seasons playing for Michigan, Howard has absolutely no collegiate experience.
The Wolverines may have wanted to take a look up the road at a fairly successful program that they’re quite familiar with. In 1995, Jud Heathcote retired as the head coach of the Michigan State men’s basketball program, leaving the Spartans in the hands of long-time assistant coach Tom Izzo.
Izzo had spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach in college basketball before getting the head coaching gig. Izzo is now a Hall of Fame coach who has taken Michigan State to eight Final Fours and the 2000 national championship.
Other big-name former players have struggled at their alma maters. Clyde Drexler and Chris Mullin both failed to reach the former glory they’d experienced as players at Houston and St. John’s, respectively, before leaving their posts of coaching their former schools. And currently, Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and Anfernee Hardaway at Memphis are having their troubles as well — despite the recruiting splashes their hirings brought — with neither of them having made it to the NCAA Tournament yet.
Michigan’s hiring of Howard seems to follow the path of the other big team in Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh’s football squad. In four seasons as coach of the Wolverines, Harbaugh has brought in a number of highly-rated recruits and has won 10 games three times. But, the former quarterback has yet to win a Big Ten title — or even reach the Big Ten championship game — or reach the College Football Playoff, and he is 2-6 against Michigan’s top rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State.
In other words, lots of flash, not a lot of substance as far as the ultimate prizes are concerned. Sounds a lot like the Fab Five. And likely, a lot like Howard’s upcoming tenure as the Michigan basketball coach.