In that conversation, Cowan noticed how Haynes seemed so comfortable as they dived into personal topics. They connected this past summer, Cowan said, after Haynes arrived at Maryland from his previous job at Michigan, “but that was the day when we really got close.”
They talked about coaching and recruiting, how much energy it involves. Haynes told Cowan about his mother’s health issues. She has been in and out of the hospital. Multiple knee surgeries have led to serious complications. Haynes reminded Cowan they’re just playing basketball. He wanted the senior to relax.
That afternoon, Cowan hit a three-pointer that sparked Maryland’s late rally. The players celebrated, and water flew all over the visitors’ locker room. Moments later, the team learned Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. The jubilant players were abruptly reminded of their own mortality, and that of their heroes and their friends.
Cowan hates flying. It was even harder that day. He rarely shows emotion. On the court, that’s often a strength. But telling others how he feels isn’t natural for him. After Bryant’s death, Cowan reached out to those close to him — including Haynes, the coach who had just talked with him about everything but the sport he plays.
“I appreciate you,” Cowan wrote. “More than you understand.”
From Michigan to Maryland
On a Monday last May, Haynes turned on ESPN, as he does each morning, and heard John Beilein had accepted the head coaching job with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. There had been no rumors, no murmurs. Haynes, then an assistant under Beilein at Michigan, saw his phone lighting up — calls, texts, more calls, more texts.
In two seasons at Michigan, Haynes helped the team win 63 games and developed guards Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson. In 2018, the Wolverines won the Big Ten tournament and made it to the national championship game. But by the time Beilein took the Cavaliers’ job, the coaching carousel had turned. Few open jobs remained.
Haynes interviewed at Maryland during the first week of June, when the Terps still needed an assistant. Haynes rode with Coach Mark Turgeon to Reagan National Airport for his flight back to Detroit.
At the time, a position at Miami was still in the mix, but during the drive with Turgeon, Haynes received a text from Hurricanes Coach Jim Larrañaga, who had decided to hire somebody else. Haynes read the message then pressed the lock button on his phone without saying anything. Maybe a minute later, Turgeon offered Haynes the job as they neared the airport. Haynes raised his arms above his head in relief. He called his wife, Tierra, before he went through security.
If anything, the way his time at Michigan ended taught Haynes that nothing in his profession is guaranteed. Assistants’ jobs are typically only as safe as that of the head coach, and even with success, they’re at the mercy of their coach’s aspirations.
All you can do is “keep trying to do the right things, keep trying to win games, keep trying to help these kids grow,” said Haynes, who will face his former employer Sunday when No. 9 Maryland hosts No. 25 Michigan in the regular season finale for both teams. “That’s in my control. Nothing else.”
'He gives kids chances’
Haynes understands what his players go through. He was a four-year starter at Kent State and holds the program records for assists, steals and minutes played. He played professionally in Europe for six years. He knows what it takes, and he has the knowledge of the game to back it up.
“All good players want to develop on the court,” said Kent State Coach Rob Senderoff, who was an assistant when Haynes played and later hired Haynes there for his first college coaching job. “The work he’s willing to put in with those guys on the court is where the relationship starts.”
Jon Fleming, a Kent State walk-on who is now the program’s director of player development, calls Haynes “the best skill development coach that I’ve been around.” Haynes explains drills and movements in detail down to where a player’s eyes should be.
Haynes’s players describe him as relatable and charismatic. Other staffers connect with the team in different ways, Cowan said, but “they're not listening to the music that we listen to.” Haynes is proud he can still do a backflip, and he cried when he lost his hair.
Haynes loves challenging players to games of one-on-one. Years later, they mention how often they beat Haynes or insist they still could. Poole said Haynes never wanted to play against him at Michigan, jokingly adding that his former coach would look like an old man at the YMCA.
“Players love him, and they love being around him. He’s a great teacher,” Turgeon said.
Conversations about Haynes generally begin the same way: “That’s my guy,” his players say.
Tre’Shaun Fletcher transferred in when Haynes was at Toledo, the coach’s second stop after four years on the Kent State staff. They bonded over shared paths: Haynes grew up in Detroit and was the first in his family to graduate college; Fletcher, who spent his early years in rural Arkansas, did the same. Now that Fletcher has a 3-year-old daughter, he talks to Haynes about parenting. They have held on to their relationship despite crossing paths for just one year, after which Haynes left for Illinois State, then Michigan.
“He gives kids chances and chances and chances,” Fletcher said in a phone interview from Finland, where he plays professionally. “He doesn’t give up on kids.”
'A job that doesn’t end’
When Haynes coached at Kent State, his oldest son, DeAndre Jr., now 12, watched games from the bench, taking advantage of openings created because Tierra was frequently preoccupied with wrangling his younger siblings. (Devon, 7, and Dallas, 5, were born while their father worked at Kent State.) Little Dre took a spot at the end of the bench next to Fleming, the walk-on.
Fleming rarely played, and if he did, he didn’t aggressively look to score. But once, in Fleming’s junior season as he subbed in during a blowout, Haynes told him, “Dude, you’ve got to put one in for Little Dre.” Fleming made the first basket of his career. He still has the video of Little Dre leaping in excitement.
Little Dre came to the gym with his dad in the summers. Fleming spent time at the Haynes family’s house, playing with the boys in the basement. Fleming jokes that his best friend in college was a kid. Little Dre always wanted a big brother. His parents told him they couldn’t fix that, but the players on his dad’s team filled the void.
Early in Haynes’s coaching career, “it hit me that this was a job that doesn’t end,” Tierra Haynes said. “So we either had to embrace that and make our family a part of the job, or we wouldn’t make it.”
At Maryland games, Little Dre asks for his ticket once his mom parks, and then he’s off, finding his friends and shooting on the court before warmups. He recently recorded a TikTok in the locker room with sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins. Little Dre’s bio on the app mentions he has an older brother in the NBA.
“He’ll want to call me when he’s around his friends,” said Poole, who is with the Golden State Warriors and said he feels like the fourth son in the Haynes family. “Being able to take all three of those guys under my wing gives me a reason to stay on track and something for them to look up to.”
Players see Haynes as a father and husband, not just a coach. Fleming still calls Haynes about twice a week. He talks to Tierra just as much, and Little Dre sometimes calls, too.
Haynes wants to attend his players’ graduations and weddings. Sitting in an empty Xfinity Center, he scrolls through his texts, with plenty that say, “Love you, bro,” going both ways, and he mentions that a couple of former players are about to propose. Eventually, Haynes hopes to be a head coach. So what happens then, when the number of players he has worked with grows each year and they have lives, careers, spouses and kids?
“You know what?” Haynes said, thinking about when his career reaches that point. “You’ve got to try to make time for people.”