Juwan Howard is more likely to turn pro than Jim Harbaugh – but not yet
At most schools, offseason speculation centers on whether a player will declare early for the draft. In Michigan, the focus has recently been on whether coaches will turn professional.
The answer, for now, is no.
Juwan Howard reportedly refused the Los Angeles Lakers to stay in Michigan for at least another season.
That the Lakers thought they could sway him this offseason is particularly laughable. And even a little embarrassing.
The most obvious attraction for Howard to stay in Ann Arbor is that he has the opportunity to coach his sons Jace and Jett this season. Has his own alma mater. It takes an extraordinary amount of hubris for an organization to even attempt to unseat Howard from a once-in-a-lifetime coaching and family experience.
From LA’s perspective, you could chalk it up to due diligence. Howard played with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka in Michigan and with LeBron James in Miami. But one wonders how well they actually know Howard if they thought there was even an iota of chance he chose money over family.
One thing is certain about this situation, however. The news of his rejection is PR goldmine for Howard. It’s the polar opposite of where his soccer counterpart ended up earlier this offseason.
Jim Harbaugh’s misstep in Minnesota
While Howard will be hailed for sticking with the winners, Jim Harbaugh has been widely criticized for his flirtation with the Minnesota Vikings. And rightly so.
By making his desire to return to the NFL so blatant, Harbaugh left his recruiting flank exposed. Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, who signed a 10-year contract in November, has enough ammunition to tell rookies “Look, I’m going to stick around a lot longer than him.”
Harbaugh did his best to back down from the situation. He has a new contract to coach the Wolverines through 2026 and assured Michigan AD Warde Manuel that his interest in returning to the NFL is “a one-time thing”.
But by making that statement public — something he had to do to save face with the recruits — Harbaugh locked himself in. If he leaves Michigan now, he’ll burn a bridge the size of Mackinac. Hard to see that happening.
Howard, on the other hand, has no such issues. And that’s why it’s much more likely that we’ll see Howard in the pro ranks one day.
Juwan Howard can choose his place
There’s a chance Howard will stay in Michigan forever. Not a likely chance, watch out. But he clearly has the power to be selective about any future moves.
Michigan means the world to Howard, and vice versa. The list of coaches who would have survived last season’s incident in Wisconsin is probably quite short. If you’re not going to get fired for hitting an opposing counterpart upside down, you have pretty phenomenal job security.
Which brings us back to the question of whether the Lakers brass really, really thought Howard would find their job appealing. The percentage chance of Howard getting fired in Michigan is in the single digits. With the Lakers, you can win an NBA title and still be unemployed in two years, as Frank Vogel has just learned.
Another perk of coaching the Wolverines: Howard is in charge of his roster. The Lakers probably wouldn’t have a vacancy if they hadn’t traded in a number of up-and-coming players to instead create a gang on the hill around LeBron.
Unlike the Lakers, the roster Howard has put together for next season is very good. If power forward Moussa Diabate chooses to return after turning heads at the NBA Scouting Combine, Michigan will be a heavy enough favorite to win the Big Ten. And even if Diabate leaves, the Wolverines should be the team to beat.
Hunter Dickinson is back. Shooter Caleb Houstan looks set to reach the potential that earned him preseason All-Big Ten honors as a rookie. Michigan’s incoming recruiting class, with Jett Howard, ranks 10th nationally.
Michigan basketball has the opportunity to put together a season as special as Harbaugh’s football team did last fall. Now is not the time to walk away, even if an NBA team with far less dysfunction than the Lakers has come calling.
Eventually, that is exactly what will happen. Howard has the luxury of choosing whatever situation suits him instead of jumping into a desperate candor. Like, say, taking over in Miami whenever mentor Erik Spoelstra leaves.
The respect for Howard on the NBA side is pretty clear. Brad Stevens apparently wanted him to coach the Celtics a year ago, but it was too soon for Howard to leave behind what he was building in Michigan.
The difference between college football and college basketball? NBA rumors help Howard as a scout, while NFL rumors hamper Harbaugh. Football requires a 3-year commitment before a player can enter the NFL Draft. Continuity matters.
In basketball, the goal is to be draftable in one year. Certainly no later than your second season. And if NBA teams want your potential college coach, that’s considered an asset. Clearly his coaching style is what they are looking for at the next level.
If other coaches tried to use “Well, Coach Howard might be in the NBA soon” as a recruiting tactic, they would likely funnel talent. for Howard.
The NBA’s rumored interest in Howard is a win for Michigan. Until the year they metastasize from rumor to fact, anyway.