Juwan Howard out as Michigan men’s basketball coach after 5 seasons


Juwan Howard will not return as Michigan’s men’s basketball coach next season after a tumultuous season that included off-court drama and dismal on-court results.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel made the announcement Friday, thanking Howard before saying “it was clear to me that the program was not living up to our expectations and not trending in the right direction.”

Michigan was 8-24 in Howard’s fifth season and 3-17 in the Big Ten. The 24 losses were the most for Michigan in a single season, surpassing a 10-22 mark in 2007-08, the first year of John Beilein’s tenure.

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“Juwan is among the greatest Wolverines to ever be associated with our basketball program. I know how much it meant, to not only Juwan, but to all of us for him to return here to lead this program,” Manuel said in the program’s announcement. “Despite his love of his alma mater and the positive experience that our student-athletes had under his leadership, it was clear to me that the program was not living up to our expectations and not trending in the right direction. I am thankful for Juwan’s dedication, passion and commitment to U-M and for all that he, and his legacy, will continue to mean to Michigan.”

An iconic figure at Michigan, Howard starred for the Fab Five and played 19 seasons in the NBA. He was hired in 2019 after Beilein left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, and led the Wolverines to immediate success, including a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in his second season. After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, the Wolverines collapsed to last place in the Big Ten this year, losing 14 of their final 15 games.

Howard’s fifth season was challenging and disjointed from the start. Assistant Phil Martelli served as Michigan’s acting head coach for the first 10 games after Howard underwent heart surgery on Sept. 15 to resect an aortic aneurysm and repair his aortic valve. On Dec. 7, three days before he returned to head-coaching duties, Howard had a run-in with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, who resigned March 1 after 15 seasons at Michigan.

In an email to athletic director Warde Manuel obtained by The Athletic, Sanderson wrote that he intervened after Jace Howard, Juwan’s son and a team captain, was “berating” a team trainer. Juwan Howard became “angry and ready to fight,” Sanderson wrote, and the two had to be separated.

A human resources review did not result in disciplinary action for Howard or Sanderson. Sanderson did not return to his role with the men’s basketball program and was working primarily with Olympic sports before reaching a settlement with the university.

Howard’s exit comes after the university placed him on a zero-tolerance policy following a postgame altercation at Wisconsin in February 2022. Following a 77-63 loss at the Kohl Center, Howard exchanged words with Wisconsin coach Greg Gard in the postgame handshake line, resulting in a skirmish between the two sides. Amid the disorder, Howard struck Badgers assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft in the head.

“Someone touched me, and I think it was very uncalled for, for them to touch me, as we were verbalizing and communicating with one another,” Howard said in a postgame news conference that day. “That’s what escalated it.”

Manuel called the incident “unacceptable behavior” and the Big Ten suspended Howard for the final five games of the 2021-22 regular season and fined him $40,000.

The altercation at Wisconsin wasn’t Howard’s first.

In a 2020-21 regular-season game against Maryland, he and Terps coach Mark Turgeon verbally sparred in Ann Arbor. When the two met again later in the Big Ten Tournament, hostilities bubbled over. Howard and Turgeon bandied words from opposite sides of the floor until they approached one another and needed to be restrained. Howard was issued double technical fouls, ejected, and escorted off the floor. (Turgeon received a technical.) According to an individual involved in the matter, the official report submitted to the Big Ten office from the incident stated Howard yelled to Turgeon, “I’ll f–king kill you.” Howard was very nearly suspended for the next day’s Big Ten tournament game against Ohio State, but then-Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren reversed course on the decision, according to people close to the matter at both Michigan and the league office.

Howard departs Michigan after finishing the third year of a five-year contract that paid him $3.4 million annually with a $3 million lump-sum buyout for termination without cause. Michigan was 87-72 with two NCAA Tournament appearances (with a likely third wiped out by the cancellation of the 2020 tournament) during a tenure in Ann Arbor that began with tears.

Howard’s hiring represented a healing of past NCAA violations and a messy split between Michigan and its most iconic team, the Fab Five. Howard wept at his introductory news conference, saying, “I’m back to help continue this beautiful culture that has been instilled here before me, and — whenever that day comes — after me.”

It was a massive job opening to fill. Howard replaced Beilein, the program’s all-time winningest coach, who departed for the NBA after 12 seasons and two Final Fours at Michigan.

Surrounded by questions of being a first-time head coach, Howard quickly had the makings of an ideal fit. He won his first seven games and led the Wolverines to a top-five ranking only one month into his first season. That first year ended with the Wolverines finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten before the coronavirus pandemic ended the 2019-20 season.

The next year read like a storybook. Howard was the darling of the college basketball world, leading Michigan to a Big Ten regular-season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines were upset in the Elite Eight by UCLA and finished 23-5, but Howard cemented himself among the top new faces in NCAA basketball. Rumors swirled that offseason of NBA teams’ interest in Howard as a head-coaching candidate, but he quickly tamped those down and committed to remaining at Michigan. He at the time had one son, Jace Howard, enrolled in the school and on the roster, and another son, Jett, on the way.

Michigan extended Howard’s original contract in November 2021, bumping his salary from $2.2 million to $3.2 and adding two years, stretching the deal through 2025-26.

As it would turn out, the next season represented the beginning of a gradual slide. The Wolverines reached the Sweet 16 in 2021-22, but only did so after squeaking into the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed in a season that began with Michigan picked as the Big Ten favorite and ranked No. 6 in the preseason AP poll.

Lofty preseason expectations came again in 2022-23, but a poor nonconference schedule and an 11-9 Big Ten record wasn’t enough to earn the program an NCAA Tournament bid. The Wolverines had to replace two NBA lottery picks from that team in Kobe Bufkin and Jett Howard, plus star center Hunter Dickinson, who transferred to Kansas.

The current Michigan season began well, with the Martelli-led Wolverines winning three straight to open the year, including a win over Rick Pitino and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines were 6-5 on Dec. 16 but went 2-19 the rest of the season.

(Photo: Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)





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