History Not on Juwan Howard’s Side as He Returns to Coach Michigan

Chris Mullin. Avery Johnson. Mark Price. Mike Dunleavy. Michael Curry. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler.

We’ll even toss in Terry Porter and Donyell Marshall. Danny Manning won at Tulsa but is likely on his way out at Wake Forest. Damon Stoudamire is fighting an uphill battle at Pacific. Sure, Kevin Ollie won a national title at UConn but he was canned four years later.

The jury remains out on Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing, who hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in his first two years at what many believe is the best job in the Big East. Penny Hardaway is winning — on the recruiting trail — but now he’ll have to show he can turn off-court victories into on-court wins with the plethora of talent.

With all due respect to Grand Canyon’s Dan Majerle, Fred Hoiberg stands alone as far as NBA-to-college success stories. He came into the college ranks with no college experience and crushed it at his alma mater in Ames. But Hoiberg will try and prove the first time around wasn’t a fluke as he’ll see if he can re-create the Hilton Magic at Nebraska with his transfer-laden formula.

LeBron James pined for Juwan Howard. So did another ex-NBA teammate, Dwyane Wade. Hell, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber hate one another but even they agreed that their former Fab Five running mate should be the pick to replace John Beilein in Ann Arbor.

Howard, 47, has agreed to a five-year deal, sources told Stadium. After helping take Michigan to a pair of national title games in 1992 and 1993, Howard has spent the past quarter-century in the NBA — as a player and assistant coach.

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Listen, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Howard from those who have played with him, from those who have played for him while he’s been an assistant with the Miami Heat since 2013 and also those who have interviewed him for NBA head gigs.

But call me skeptical.

Yes, I keep being told that Howard is different. Much like another former NBA player hired in college this cycle, Jerry Stackhouse, Howard has some grassroots ties. His kids play AAU ball and Howard is around it quite a bit.

University School Coach Jim Carr, a long-time DI assistant who coaches both of Howard’s sons, Jace and Jett, has no hesitation saying that Howard will be successful at Michigan.

“He’s a grinder,” Carr told me. “He’s on the road more than most college assistants because he’s coaching in the NBA and also watching AAU basketball because he’s traveling with his kids.”

But it’s still not quite the same as grinding it out as a college assistant coach, paying your dues by criss-crossing the country, spending day and night on the phone to get 16-year-olds to play for you while also juggling speaking engagements, calls with your compliance department and also establishing relationships with your players.

I’m not saying Howard can’t do it.

I’m just saying history isn’t on his side.

According to multiple sources, Mullin and Johnson simply didn’t put in the hours necessary to sustain success. They both had talent, but underachieved relative to that talent.

Dunleavy didn’t have a shot in hell and didn’t make any sense as the hire at Tulane. Thomas at FIU was a complete train wreck and Price didn’t even make it three years at Charlotte. It looks as though this will be Porter’s final season at Portland and we won’t even bother revisiting the Clyde the Glide Era in Houston.

Failures, failures and more failures.

I hope Howard succeeds. I honestly do – for his sake, for that of Michigan and also for black coaches who don’t get enough head coaching opportunities. It’s been nice having the team in Ann Arbor relevant again, and the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is good for college basketball.

But I need to see it to believe it.

Hardaway has crushed it at Memphis, largely due to the relationships he formed while an AAU coach and also as a high school coach. He coached the No. 1 player in the country, James Wiseman, and thus was able to beat out Kentucky for his services. It’ll be great to have Memphis relevant again, truly for the first time since John Calipari bolted a decade ago.

I’m not nearly as optimistic about Stackhouse’s prospects, especially after seeing his staff, which consists of one assistant who has displayed the ability to land high-level players. This will also be important for Howard, bringing on a high-level staff that knows the landscape and can alleviate some of the concerns and responsibilities so that Howard can concentrate on the primary task: Landing players.

This Michigan team won’t have Iggy Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole or Charles Matthews, unless Howard can convince the trio of likely second-round picks to completely alter their mindset and return to Ann Arbor.

Brazdeikis announced Tuesday that he’ll forego his eligibility and stay in the draft.

The Wolverines will return Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers, so the cupboard isn’t completely bare, but it’ll be semi-surprising if Michigan goes to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

Howard has plenty of support and maybe guys like LeBron, Rose and Webber, who also have huge platforms, will find a way to help in their own ways. But I’ve heard this song before, seen this dance and usually it ends the same way.

With another former NBA guy proving that going back to school isn’t so easy.

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