Michigan turned to the “Fab Five” to find its 17th men’s basketball coach. Juwan Howard, a member of the Wolverines’ storied 1991 recruiting class, returned to his alma mater on Wednesday after spending six years as an assistant with the Miami Heat.
“It was always going to take something incredibly special to for me to leave Miami; however, I know in my heart this is the right place and the right time,” Howard, 46, said in a statement. “As a ‘Michigan Man’ I know the place our program has in college basketball and I embrace the chance to build onto that history and lead us to championships both in the Big Ten and national level. ”
Howard replaces John Beilein, who departed Michigan last week after 12 seasons to become head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Taking over a program in 2007 that had been struggling for several years — in part because of NCAA sanctions related to the “Fab Five” era — Beilein became Michigan’s all-time winningest coach, setting a high standard for Howard to match, if not exceed.
Howard will be a head coach for the first time at any level, but on Wednesday he pointed to his near-decade of experience in “a great championship organization in the Miami Heat,” including three years as a player. At the end of his playing career, he was used sparingly but contributed to two NBA title-winning squads led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“My guy deserves this opportunity,” Wade said on Twitter of Howard’s hiring by Michigan. “This will only be right. ”
“Absolutely the right choice and i hope it becomes a done deal ASAP!!” James tweeted in reply to Wade. “One of my favorite people I’ve ever met at the age of 16 and been around since then. ”
“[Miami Coach] Erik Spoelstra, all the people with the Heat, all the people who played there and are working there now, they speak really highly of him,” former Heat, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Howard recently to the Detroit Free Press. “And his reputation was certainly one of being not only a really good player but a great professional who was a leader and led in the right direction. It was all positive.
"I’ve actually never heard anything negative at all about Juwan. ”
Before ending his NBA career with the Heat, Howard played for the Washington Wizards — who were the Bullets when they made him the fifth overall pick in the 1994 draft — as well as the Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers. An all-star in 1996, he scored 16,159 total points in the NBA, with 7,428 rebounds, 2,663 assists, 818 steals and 312 blocks.
In his first season at Michigan, Howard teamed with three other McDonald’s all-Americans in Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Jimmy King to form the “Fab Five,” along with another talented freshman, Ray Jackson. All five eventually made it into the Wolverines’ starting lineup that season, and they went on stunning success both on the court, where they led Michigan to two straight appearances in the NCAA national championship game, and off it, with their playing style and apparel choices making the group a marketing sensation.
Webber left for the NBA after his sophomore season, while Howard, who twice earned all-American honors, and Rose went pro the following year. Howard went on to have the longest NBA career of any member of the group, including winning the only championships.
Michigan eventually vacated wins and removed banners related to the “Fab Five” era, including for their 1992 and 1993 Final Four appearances, as part of a major scandal involving payments from a booster.
Before agreeing to return to Michigan, Howard reportedly interviewed with the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers for those teams’ head coaching positions, and was also linked to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ coaching search. The Wolverines moved to lock up Howard after Providence Coach Ed Cooley decided to stay with his hometown school and signed a contract extension to continue leading the Friars.
According to Michigan, Howard agreed to a five-year contract, starting at $2 million annually with a base salary of $400,000. “It feels great to be coming home,” he said. “Go Blue!”
“We have found someone with high integrity, great character and a coach who has unbelievable knowledge of the game of basketball,” Michigan Director of Athletics Warde Manuel said. “Juwan has proven himself to be a tremendous leader, a wonderful communicator and a developer of talent. We couldn’t have asked for a better role model for the young men in our program. We are excited to welcome back a member of the family to Ann Arbor. ”