When Michigan first hired Juwan Howard in May of 2019, he heard the criticisms loud and clear.
To some, the hire made little sense. The former Fab Five star had never been a head coach before, and he had no coaching experience at the college level. As a first-time recruiter, few expected Howard to make a seamless transition to the NCAA.
Fast forward 21 months, and those doubts have been replaced by crickets. The third-ranked Wolverines (14-1) are in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten championship. And with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class set to arrive in Ann Arbor next fall, it appears this level of success might not be an anomaly. Howard hasn’t even coached a single postseason game yet, but he’s already seemingly solidified Michigan as a perennial contender.
Stepping in after the abrupt departure of former coach John Beilein, Howard didn’t miss a beat. He began his coaching career with seven straight wins, two of which came over top-10 teams at last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis. After Thanksgiving, the Wolverines skyrocketed to a top-five national ranking.
For Howard, part of bursting on the scene as a coach can be attributed to his preparation during his NBA days as an assistant coach.
“My wife says I have this Type A personality,” Howard said during a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “That’s how I’m wired. I wouldn’t have been able to last 19 years in the NBA if I didn’t have a certain edge about me. To get back into coaching, for six years as an assistant coach on the Miami Heat staff. I took it upon myself to prepare myself to become a head coach someday, so I worked at this. And I’m going to continue working at this. I love it.”
But preparation only went so far. Once Howard got into the swing of things, his natural competitive drive took over. That edge is rooted in his childhood, as he grew up in Chicago playing neighborhood basketball, baseball and tackle football without helmets or shoulder pads.
“That level of mental toughness has prepared me for whatever’s thrown in my direction,” Howard said. “Yeah, I hear the doubters. I’m not going to sit here and act like I don’t hear the noise (from) before I got hired. And also, still to this day, I hear the backhanded compliments. Am I competitive? Of course I am.”
After a successful first season back at Michigan, Howard turned down NBA coaching overtures. With a solid foundation in place, he’s started turning an eye to the future in Ann Arbor.
“I’m also about improving and having a growth mindset on how I can get better to be the best version of myself to help prepare this team, and more importantly, to represent this fine institution the best way possible,” Howard said. “That’s my No. 1 goal. That’s what drives me. That’s what really excites me.”