The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 67

MAY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 23 those streaming down his face when he became Michigan's coach. He'd promised her he'd graduate from college. He did so, coming back to Michigan to get it done in 1995. Before that, he raced with his Fab Five teammates to the national cham- pionship game in the springs of 1992 and '93, and made the Elite Eight in '94 before seeking his NBA fortunes. In the pros, Howard encountered riches beyond his wildest dreams during those lean, tough, formative years in Chicago. Along the way, he snagged a pair of NBA championship rings. Now, he resides in the big office at Crisler Center, a space that will soon display hardware from his al- most unfathomable second season at Michigan. A Big Ten championship. An NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed. As- sociated Press National Coach of the Year honors. A run to the Elite Eight. Jannie Mae would be beaming, the tears streaming. And her grandson is only getting started. INTENSITY AND INTEGRITY Jay Smith has seen it all play out. Michigan's present basketball direc- tor of player personnel and develop- ment, Smith got in on the ground floor on Steve Fisher's staff when the Fab Five hit town. He's got the scars to prove it, battling against Howard in practice as U-M's big man coach. He's back for more, running interference when Howard looked like he might meet Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon's shouts and aggression with a charge of his own. That wouldn't have gone well, Smith admitted. "I jokingly told this to everybody: if he wanted to truck me, he could have," Smith said with a laugh. "If he wanted to put it in down gear and run me over, there's no way my scrawny butt is going to stop that man. He knew. He's intense." He's intense and controlled at the same time, those who know him best insist. Smith saw it when two future NBA All-Stars went at it in Crisler, all those years ago. "If you wanted to make practice interesting, put Juwan against Chris [Webber], and all hell is going to break loose," he recalled. "I mean, it's going to get competitive. You've got Chris, you've got Juwan, two out- standing players. It's like two batter- ing rams going against each other. At times, it got intense. "It never came to fisticuffs, but it was intense. It's not for some people, but it's okay. It works." Smith felt the intensity when he worked with U-M's post players. "Juwan was a worker," Smith of- fered. "He'd wear me out in practice. I mean, he'd beat the livin' hell out of me — broken glasses, cut lips. "We would go at it. That's the way he coaches. That's the way he is in practice. He doesn't overdo it. Juwan did a great job of pacing us." Smith marvels at the effort Howard led in guiding the Wolverines as far as he did in his first NCAA Tourna- ment as a coach. Without arguably their best player, they wound up one made shot away from the Final Four. Howard channeled this personal fire into an inferno among the troops as they prepared for battle. Meticu- lous in preparation, he's raw emo- tion when it's time to make things happen. "His talk to the guys before we get on the court … he has a burning competitor 's eye," Smith observed. "I've seen it when he played. It's like, 'You're not going to deny me.' "He has a way of bringing guys together when he talks. He talked about emptying the tank. He had a burning fire in his belly. His eyes say, 'Let's go! I'm ready, and I'm impos- ing my will on you. I'm handing you the torch, to execute.' "You can just feel the passion in the way he coaches, in his love for the players. Man!" The passion carries over onto the court, Smith assured. "When he gets in the huddle and says something, he's just driven," Howard's former sparring partner continued. "He has that saying, 'This is for competitors only!' If you don't want to compete, this is not the place. "That's the way he coaches. It re- minds me of when he played. He wasn't tricky. He wasn't fancy. He's coming through you. He ain't go- ing around you. He's coming through you." When Turgeon pointed out How- ard's feet were out of the coaching box during the Big Ten Tournament, then shouted "Don't talk to me!" while advancing at the U-M head coach, Smith hoped Howard wasn't coming through him. He didn't, but King wasn't shocked that the Jannie Mae Howard- and Chicago-raised head coach wasn't backing down. "I wasn't surprised at that," King assured. "It fired me up. I jumped up out of my seat. I was yelling at the TV, just like he was yelling. But what After leading Michigan to the Big Ten regu- lar-season title in his second campaign as head coach, Howard won National Coach of the Year honors from multiple outlets, including the Associated Press. PHOTO BY ANDY HANCOCK/COURTESY NCAA HUB Jay Smith, U-M basketball director of player personnel and development "You can just feel the passion in the way he coaches, in his love for the players."

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - May 2021 Issue