5 critical tasks on Juwan Howard's early to-do list as new Michigan basketball coach
Howard agrees to five-year deal
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan's search for a new head basketball coach finally came to an end Wednesday, and now Juwan Howard has a long list of urgent business to tackle.
Michigan announced the former member of the Fab Five late Wednesday afternoon, giving him a five-year deal starting at $2 million annually with a base salary of $400,000.
Howard inherits one of the top programs in college basketball over the last decade, but it's certainly not locked and loaded for the next couple of years.
John Beilein's departure comes amid an offseason of attrition for the Wolverines. Three starters -- Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole -- have officially moved on to the NBA. Jalen Wilson, the team's top signee, asked for his release after Beilein departed.
For a program that's been as stable as any over the last several years, there's plenty of offseason turmoil in Ann Arbor, and that's now Howard's mess to handle.
Here's a look at five of the most important tasks on Howards early to-do list.
1. Try to keep assistant coaches
With the announcement of Howard's contract, there were reports that Michigan would have plenty of say in assembling the rest of his coaching staff. Still, Howard has to lead the effort to keep some of Michigan's assistants in place.
Luke Yaklich is the most obvious priority, but he also seems the most likely to leave. He reportedly interviewed with Texas during Michigan's coaching search, and since he interviewed for the head coaching job at Michigan and was passed over in favor of Howard, it seems that he could choose to join the Longhorns.
Yaklich is an extremely valuable voice in Michigan's locker room. He immediately elevated the defense to elite levels upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, and he was a solid recruiter for the Wolverines. If he leaves, it'll be another major blow to Michigan.
Saddi Washington and DeAndre Haynes are also priorities, not only because they're good coaches with strong recruiting connections, but also because they can help carry on the culture of consistently winning the right way.
Washington also interviewed for the head coaching job, but he wasn't considered as serious of a candidate, by all accounts.
If any or all of the assistant coaches stay on staff, it will only help Michigan continue what it's done the last several years and maintain relationships with recruits.
2. Solidify 2019 signees
There's no sugarcoating Wilson's departure. It was a massive blow to Michigan, especially in the short term.
Michigan's offense was ultimately its undoing in 2018, and two of the best weapons -- Brazdeikis and Poole -- won't be around next season. Wilson was expected to be a major part of next year's offense and perhaps even a day one starter.
Howard has to talk to Wilson and see if there's any chance he'd consider reaffirming his commitment to the Wolverines. It seems unlikely, as he's being courted by Hall of Fame coaches at blue blood schools in North Carolina and Kansas, but Howard at least has to give it a shot.
Even if Wilson chooses to go elsewhere, Howard has to turn his attention to Michigan's other four-star signee, Cole Bajema, who hasn't made any moves since Beilein left.
Bajema is a wing who can shoot, which is something Michigan's offense desperately needs. Even if Bajema isn't as prepared to contribute in 2019-20, he's a talented player who would be a valuable part of the future.
If Howard loses both Wilson and Bajema, there's nothing left of Beilein's 2019 class.
3. Contact Franz Wagner
It seems like a long shot, but Howard needs to see if there's any chance Franz Wagner would still consider spurning the pros to come to Michigan.
Wagner is the younger brother of former Michigan star Moritz Wagner, and he was heavily considering Michigan while Beilein was the head coach. Beilein even went to Europe to visit the star recruit.
Last week, Franz Wagner made his official visit to Ann Arbor, and it must have been very bizarre. Beilein had just shocked the university by leaving for the NBA and none of the assistant coaches knew exactly what was going to happen. Michigan didn't even have any solidified candidates for the head coaching position at that time.
One year of playing professionally in Europe always seemed the more likely option for Franz Wagner, and now, with so much uncertainty surrounding the Michigan basketball program, it feels as if that's a sure thing. Howard has to talk to him and make sure, though, because he would be a huge addition to a team that badly needs offensive talents.
Also, anyone with Moe Wagner's DNA is bound to make Michigan much more fun to watch.
4. Make Zeb Jackson a priority
Even though the prospects for Michigan's 2019 recruiting class look bleak, Howard can't let that snowball into future classes. Luckily, the most important part of Michigan's 2020 class has already reaffirmed his commitment to the Wolverines.
Zeb Jackson, a top-60 player and four-star shooting guard in the class of 2020, tweeted a photo of himself with Howard three years ago, and his father said his son is honoring his commitment as long as Howard does his part.
Jackson is an extremely talented player and the only commit in Michigan's 2020 class. Howard is expected to be a good recruiter if he's willing to put in the time, but he needs to make sure he's also recruiting the players with whom Beilein already built connections.
Recruiting is a new responsibility for Howard, but it's one of the most important aspects of his new job. Also, it starts immediately.
5. Fill out the roster and staff
Once Howard knows what's happening with Wilson, Bajema, Franz Wagner and his assistant coaches, he needs to get to work quickly to assemble the rest of his coaching staff and fill out the roster.
Michigan has three open scholarships due to attrition and Wilson's decommitment, so Howard should hit the drawing board on how he wants to handle the final spots on the roster.
Assuming he can't keep all three assistant coaches in Ann Arbor, Howard also needs to make sure he surrounds himself with great recruiters who understand the college game. He's spent the last 25 years playing and coaching in the NBA, and the college game is much, much different.
Howard doesn't necessarily have to use all the scholarships this year if he wants to look to the future, but he needs to get a staff in place as quickly as possible so recruits know Michigan has regained the stability that made it so appealing in the past.
Unless Howard somehow bats a thousand and lands Wilson, Franz Wagner and Bajema, Michigan probably won't be competing at the top of the Big Ten next season. That doesn't mean it can't be ready to make a run by 2020-21, though.
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