SPANISH HARLEM – I bleed Blue but it’s not the one many fans in New York would expect. The Blue I’m talking about is the color that represents the Michigan Wolverines. When I was a kid I loved their uniforms. To me, the colors just worked. That’s when I became a fan – even before I knew about the history that they had in college football. Oh, and those helmets are still fire to this day; the maize and blue were different and cool. So, as you can imagine, it was easy to root for the basketball team when they got good and the Fab 5 era locked-in a bunch of kids in those days in ways that people still describe as a phenomenon. They were the hottest team in sports. The most famous team with more influence than any college basketball team had up to that point. They were rockstars and though they didn’t win any national championships, they created a legacy that’s still unmatched to this day.
The reason I tell you this is because the university yesterday hired Juwan Howard to be the next head coach. Let me tell you, it was a total shock for me when John Beilein left to be the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I had grown accustomed to having one of the best coaches in college basketball, perennial contenders every year without any of the one-n-done players that most elite schools attract. Beilein recruited really good players, guys he could mold and have buy into his system. While they never won a national championship during his tenure, they made two finals and countless runs in the NCAA tournament. John was a really good hire that changed the culture at Michigan by making them one of the elite programs again.
Beilein will surely be missed and I wish him luck in the NBA but his loss left the Michigan Basketball with a gaping hole at head coach. Some of the best coaches in college basketball get paid a crazy amount of money and even trying to poach them from their programs would be almost impossible. That left the university with few choices and the ones they liked didn’t work out in the end. This does not mean that I’m not happy to have Juwan Howard in the fold, I’m just scared because he was never a head coach before at any level. He has been an assistant coach with the Miami Heat and has learned under some really good coaches that include guys like Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley.
Does that mean that Juwan Howard deserved to be the next head coach? Maybe. I’d like to think so. People will judge him harshly if he becomes one of a long list of guys that came back home to coach their alma mater and failed. It won’t be easy for him and college basketball is much different from the NBA. You have to recruit players to come play for your program and while being a part of the Fab 5 gives you clout, it won’t get you the best players in high school. Howard will need to hire an experienced staff and a recruiter that can bring in the players this fan base is used to.
I applaud the university for thinking outside the box and bringing in a “Michigan Man.” (What is that anyway?) Someone that will “wow” you as soon as he steps into a room but will that be enough to keep this program among college basketball’s elite?
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