Juwan Howard loves the University of Michigan and publicly displayed it in a way that not many have over the years. It was special to see and the emotions were palpable on the day he was officially announced as the men’s basketball head coach in Ann Arbor.
Howard may not have the head coaching experience that fans may have desired as the replacement to John Beilein, but from a passion and morale standpoint, Howard is already winning his early days as the man leading the program. His attitude and the love he has can be felt in the room and is infectious, which no doubt is a positive for those players and people close to the program who were shell-shocked by the most accomplished coach in program history bolting for the NBA without really any warning.
Howard does not check all of the boxes with the initial hire, and a lot of what he does is going to depend on how well he recruits at Michigan. However, a college basketball coach’s main job on the recruiting trail is to be a salesman of the program and if he is able to give as emotional a pitch to his players as he did to the media and those assembled at Crisler Center on Thursday, that is going to be a big win for them.
That’s great, but the press conference also highlighted the concerns about the program moving forward under Howard. It is not enough to just love the university. Ask Brady Hoke how that worked out.
When asked about his philosophy and what he expects to bring to the program from a coaching standpoint, Howard did not have much to say and openly admitted he will need to learn on the job. The man has never coached a game before, but it backs up the worries that some may have about what this team will look like coming out of the Beilein era.
Beilein had questions coming in, but he had a style that he brought with him. That had to come from somewhere and start somewhere. That said, there were a lot of stepping stones that Beilein had to take before he got to Michigan.
Howard has the complete support and patience of athletic director Warde Manuel in growing as a coach and building it in his image. And a week into a first-time head coach’s tenure, of course they are still figuring it out.
Howard is going to surround himself with people that will help guide him early on in the process as he develops into a head coach and the people he hires to his staff may very well determine where this thing is headed at Michigan. One of the themes of the press conference on Thursday was maintaining the culture and strong program that was built under Beilein, but this is going to be a very different Michigan moving forward.
That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. And a change.
Change is scary.
It feels like Howard is going to be able to recruit and potentially be more successful than his predecessor was from a rankings standpoint. But what will make or break him is if he can coach up and develop his players, which is what we have said about the hire from the start.
He was not going to be able to answer those questions during a press conference.
Manuel made it clear that this was his hire and he was not motivated by marketing or ties to the past. He truly believes that Howard was the best fit for this job and he has to be given the benefit of the doubt for it in the here and now. He does not feel it was a risk because of the passion inside the man that he chose for this job, and made sure to sort of poke at the media for suggesting it was a risk.
Well, Warde, it is a risk. Anyone that realistically would have been hired would have been a risk. That’s what happens when the best coach the basketball program has ever seen is gone.
This is Manuel’s guy, and given what has transpired, it feels like a logical risk to take. The man loves Michigan and is ready to be a head coach. There will be some bumps along the way early on, but Howard will be defined by if those bumps snowball or not.
For now, all fans can do is rally around a guy who wants so badly to succeed in this job and cannot wait to get to work. He has a lot to learn, and perhaps we have a bit of a step back to endure. This is going to take time.
Anyone outside of the athletic department who downplays concerns about the hire is simply shilling for the program. It is okay to be excited for a guy, but know that there are some major questions about the direction of Michigan Basketball.
The hellos are done. The introduction is over. Time to get to work.