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Why Juwan Howard? Examining what his hire means for Michigan Basketball

A soft reboot comes from a link to the past.

NBA: Miami Heat at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Juwan Howard has been named the next head coach of the Michigan Men’s Basketball program after a coaching search that took just over a week to complete. Nobody could have predicted John Beilein leaving the way he did, but his replacement now comes in the form of a throwback name for Wolverine hoops fans.

This will be Howard’s first head coaching job after spending the last six seasons on the bench of the NBA’s Miami Heat as one of Erik Spoelstra’s top assistants. Fans are right to be concerned about a lack of head coaching experience, but by most accounts he is ready for an opportunity to lead a team of his own.

Now, if Howard wasn’t a “Michigan Man” with those accolades as a long-time NBA player and assistant coach, does that make him the best candidate for this job? Truthfully, it probably does not, but we are about to find out. Howard probably gets to skip a step or two on the coaching ladder for this opportunity, but that is the benefit of having the tie to the program that he does going back to his days as a member of the Fab Five.

It is hard to tell what he is going to bring because he has not done this before and we do not know the type of coach that he is or how he will recruit. All we really have to go on is that it is not a complete stab in the dark for Michigan seeing as NBA teams have shown interest in him as a head coaching candidate. Those in the know seem to think he is ready, but the questions will persist until he proves he can handle it. In recent days, both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have strongly endorsed his candidacy, which is something that the Wolverines should be screenshotting and sending to any recruit that is willing to listen right now.

And that is one of the first big keys in all of this. How will Howard recruit? It would not be a surprise to see him out-recruit Beilein from a rankings standpoint. One of the biggest sells to a kid during the process for any program is how successful they can be in getting them to the NBA. Seeing as they could be playing for someone who spent more than half his life in the league as a player and a coach, they should be relatively successful there.

What cannot be replicated, or at least is the biggest question mark, is will they be able to develop who they get? Beilein had a Midas touch with players the likes of which few have ever seen in college basketball in taking unheralded players and turning them into NBA draft picks. Regardless of how you feel about their pro careers, he got them there, often times by flipping a switch with their skill-sets that were somewhat stunning.

A lot of this might wind up depending on who they surround him with as assistant coaches and the resources available to him. Now that they have another homegrown boy coaching one of their top programs, which is indeed a smart marketing play on the athletic department’s part, it would make sense that they give him everything he needs to be successful.

People will expect a drop-off early on, and that might be the case on the recruiting trail while things settle down, but Howard is set to inherit a somewhat talented roster next season still even with the NBA defectors. Zavier Simpson is not going anywhere and Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske will be leaned on more to be major contributors. Their success next season could very well depend on the development of players like David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Colin Castleton and Adrian Nunez, just to name a few. So we are going to find out early on just how capable Howard and his staff may be in player development. Even then, those will still be “Beilein guys” until he fills out the roster with his own recruits.

One would expect at some point, this might ultimately be what brings the Fab Five back together for some sort of formal recognition, at least it feels that way. That is not the biggest angle (though the other members of that group of players may treat it as such, as they have done with big events in the past), but it is one nonetheless.

Once Beilein decided to leave and the big names said no right off the bat (they did try to fire the money cannon), it became clear that a reboot was in order and anyone they could have brought in was going to come with question marks. However, it never really felt like that wide a net was ever cast in this search, which is disappointing. A national search was promised, but it did not feel like a whole heck of a lot of stones were turned over. We heard Shaka Smart and Ed Cooley’s names mentioned, but other than that it seemed honed in and focused on Howard or potentially elevating Luke Yaklich or Saddi Washington to the head job.

Personally, given the choice between Howard or the assistants, I may have just stuck with Yaklich or Washington because of the continuity and the fact that it feels like either option feels like a “he’ll be here for 10 years or we’ll be doing this again in three or four years” type of candidate. Both of those guys earned that opportunity.

But the problem with elevating and staying the Beilein course is that you cannot just plug and play coaches into something someone else built. Michigan was great because of Beilein, not the other way around, and the touch that he had on the program was special and quite frankly, is unlikely to be replicated.

When the search started looking a bit iffy, Michigan AD Warde Manuel put all of his eggs in the Memberberries basket.

If fans feel disappointed with the search and the hire, they have a right to be given what they thought the university was capable of. However, you have to understand that coming out of Beilein’s shadow is intimidating as hell and even the most qualified of candidates may have had a problem living up to those expectations. Michigan is not a traditional basketball power that has shown an improbability of failure, so the gig is daunting without a blank check and enormous job security for elite, entrenched coaches somewhere else.

The pressure to maintain what Beilein built is going to be massive, especially now that the fanbase is engaged and expects the program to be more than a palette cleanser to get the bad taste of a lot of disappointing football seasons out of their mouths.

Howard is a risk, but a smart risk and someone who’s coaching arrow is pointing upward whether he came to Michigan or not. He should be a fine recruiter and he will have the support of a fanbase already so familiar with him and nostalgic about his days as a player.

He has enormous shoes to fill, but so would anyone else that had been offered this job. Can he coach, though?

That will be the multi-million dollar question and the one that may define Manuel as the university’s athletic director.