20-loss season may spell end for Juwan Howard at Michigan

One guy did it in his first season in Ann Arbor — before going on to win a pair of regular-season and conference tournament championships, along with appearing in two national title games. The latest guy is doing it in what might be his last season in Ann Arbor — with one regular-season championship and no Final Fours on his resume. The only thing John Beilein and Juwan Howard have in common is that they’ve both had 20-loss seasons at Michigan.

When the Wolverines fell to Purdue, 84-76, at home on Sunday, it dropped them to a horrific 8-20 in a very rocky season that’s been plagued by Howard’s health, a ton of injuries, and having their best player suspended for road games.

“It’s definitely like a discussed factor,” Michigan’s Terrance Williams II said of the lack of fan support the Wolverines received at home, as Purdue fans took over the arena. “You know, just playing a game, we’re going to play on the court, but it felt like Mackey Arena, straight up.

“We go on road trips, you know, their fanbase no matter what the record is, they will be all their fans and a little bit of Michigan fans. Today felt more like 75 percent Purdue fans, 25 percent Michigan.”

With at least four games left on the schedule, things could get even worse for Michigan. Howard could set the program’s single-season record for losses, which would be worse than Beilein’s campaign during his first season in 2007-2008 when he went 10-22. Howard now joins Beilein, William Perigo (1959-1960), and Bill Frieder (1981-1982) as the only coaches in the program’s history to lose at least 20 games in a season.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“I felt like I was letting down my teammates because I didn’t do what I came here to do, and that was to bring a championship to this university, a university I care so much about,” the Fab Five member tearfully said during his introductory press conference in 2019. “Now let’s fast forward 25 years later. I’m back.”

Besides the 2020-2021 season that included an Elite Eight appearance, things haven’t gone like many assumed. Much of the talk around Howard has been around the recruits that he hasn’t signed, the players who’ve left the program — due to the transfer portal or entering the NBA draft too soon — or the on- and off-court drama Howard has been involved in, which has included multiple skirmishes with other coaches, and alleged ones with members of his staff.

Last month, the unthinkable happened when the Fab Five reunited at Michigan when Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King all came together to sit courtside and support Howard at the Ohio State game. It was the first time the iconic group had been together in that place since 1993.

“Family always support family,” Howard told his team standing with the Fab Five in the locker room. “You see what the real ones are. The real ones come out when things are a little bit rough. The real ones don’t run away. And the real Michigan fans that support this team right here, you’re looking at them.”

Earlier this month, Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel publicly supported Howard.

“Juwan and I have talked, yes,” he said. “We’ll continue to have those conversations as the season goes through. I continue to support him and the effort to turn this around. There is no lack of effort from our student-athletes and our coaches. It’s a lack of execution at times. We have to be better. He knows that. I’ll continue to have conversations with him and will continue to support him and our program.

“It would be fair to say I have not really thought about any changes in our men’s basketball program at this time.”

At the time, Michigan was 8-17 and had lost 12 of their last 14. The Wolverines have back-to-back road games against Rutgers and Ohio State before they face Nebraska at home in the finale. If the season ended today, they’d be the 14th seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

A few weeks ago we watched as Warde Manuel hit a home run by promoting offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore to head coach of the football program after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL, in a move that was a no-brainer. In the coming weeks, Manuel may have to make a more official decision about Juwan Howard. And if Howard breaks Beilein’s record for most losses, it might be an easy decision for Manuel to make.


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