While there have been a number of major stories so far this offseason, there’s little understating the significance of John Beilein’s recent departure from the Michigan Wolverines. He led the program to unprecedented success and Wolverine fans will now have to hope somebody else can grab the torch and keep things rolling in Ann Arbor. Undoubtedly, it’s been the biggest offseason story for the Big Ten so far.
And as reported earlier this week, the man stepping into Beilein’s shoes will be Juwan Howard. He graduated from Michigan in the 1990s and was a key part of the program’s legendary Fab Five recruiting class that took the Wolverines to two straight national championship games in 1992 and 1993. He subsequently went to the NBA, first as a player and then as an assistant coach thereafter for the Miami Heat.
Generally speaking, and as I wrote earlier this week, there’s really no telling how Howard will perform in Ann Arbor. He’s never been a head coach before and nobody really has any idea with regard to what his philosophy will be at the college level. Most considered him to be a defensive focused coach in the NBA, but does he try to do similar things at the college level? We’ll have to wait and see.
But excluding the bigger questions for a moment, what should Michigan fans expect from Howard moving forward? What will he do in the weeks and months to come?
Let’s take a look.
1. Get the staff in order.
More often than not, when a coaching change occurs, the departing coach takes the vast majority, if not all, of the assistants with him to his new job. After all, the previous coach hired those assistants, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave them behind when he changes jobs. Moreover, things can be a little awkward for the assistants and the incoming head coach if the previous coach left on bad terms. You can’t have someone on staff that could potentially be undermining things.
But Michigan doesn’t have an ordinary coaching transition. Beilein departed for the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers are clearly pursuing assistants with significant NBA experience rather than college assistants. As such, Beilein’s former assistants don’t have clear landing spots elsewhere. Add in that Beilein and the staff were on good terms with the university prior to Beilein’s departure and things get even a little more unusual.
Howard likely won’t just “roll over” everyone on Beilein’s staff, but this unusual set of circumstances seems to imply that many will stay. And this has to be Howard’s first goal. These are the guys that can get things going again on the recruiting trail, solidify the roster, and lead the program to success in the future. Without his own college coaching experience to rely on, Howard desperately needs a capable and experienced staff.
So far, we’ve already seen indications that Howard recognizes this:
〽️ Nation! I'm pleased to announce that @CampSanderson - an integral part of the program the last 10 years - will be staying in Ann Arbor.— Juwan Howard (@JuwanHoward) May 24, 2019
His reputation precedes him — I’m definitely looking forward to witnessing that first workout.
As mentioned, I would be pretty surprised if Howard keeps Beilein’s staff entirely intact. Not everyone fits well together and he will want (and has a right to) some of his own “flavor” on the program as well. However, look for at least a good hunk of the staff to remain intact. After all, the Wolverines were in good shape before Howard arrived and there’s no reason to shake up what’s working. This will certainly be his first priority.
2. Meet and figure out the returning roster.
This one is pretty obvious given the territory, but another key goal will be spending some time with Michigan’s current roster and “re-recruiting” each of the guys to stay. The roster may not be what it once was with three players departing early for the NBA, but this is a team with a winning culture and some really talented players. Howard can’t afford to let a good hunk of his roster depart before he even gets rolling.
The good news for Wolverine fans is that there’s been no indication that any returners have been looking to “jump ship” since Beilein announced his departure. Still, Howard will be looking to solidify his roster in the days to come.
3. Stabilize the 2019 recruiting class.
It might sound like I’m repeating myself, but Howard will need to use similar tactics on Michigan’s incoming 2019 recruiting class. The program’s top incoming recruit in Jalen Wilson has already decommitted, but Cole Bajema remains in the class. He’s a four-star prospect and sits just outside the top 100 nationally and Howard appears to have already garnered his support:
Howard now needs to see if he can get Wilson back in the fold. Without Beilein and potentially Luke Yaklich (the assistant most involved in Wilson’s recruitment), it could be a tough sell to get Wilson away from Kansas. Still, Howard will have to try.
3. Fill the open scholarships.
Things will surely change for Michigan’s roster in the weeks ahead, but the Wolverines currently have three open scholarships heading into next season. To put things mildly, that’s not a good position to be in at the moment. If things remain the same, it would mean Michigan would have a two-deep and nothing more for next season. Any injury could force someone out of position or into too many minutes.
The solution, of course, is to try and fill those open slots. Fans will hope that Wilson recommits and fills one of those slots. Michigan was also heavily involved in recruiting 2019 German prospect Franz Wagner (yes, that Wagner) and Oakland transfer Jaevin Cumberland. Expect Howard to be reaching out to all three moving forward.
If Howard misses on the prospects above, there won’t be many other quality options available. There are a handful of top 150 prospects left, but none of them seem all that likely to consider Michigan. We’ll have to see if Howard can change that.
4. Get in early on the major 2020 and 2021 prospects.
Once Howard gets his current staff, roster, and incoming recruiting class in shape, expect him to start focusing on the two classes to come. A new coach can bring an early sizzle to recruiting, so expect a lot of action on this front this summer. Few have any idea on what Howard’s recruiting philosophy will look like at the moment.