Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he is losing more than an assistant coach with Juwan Howard’s hiring as coach at the University of Michigan.
"Juwan is an absolute star as a person, player and coach," Spoelstra said Wednesday.
"I feel he is more than ready. He is a terrific leader and mentor, which translates very well to the collegiate level. While we are losing a valuable member of our staff and a great friend, I am happy for him and his family."
For Howard, it ultimately became a matter of returning to his Fab Five Freshman roots.
Going full circle to his time as a Wolverines player, when he appeared in national championship games in 1992 and '93, Howard leaves a Heat staff he joined as an assistant to Spoelstra in 2013-14.
“He is deserving of this opportunity to coach at the University of Michigan,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “He is going back to a school and a conference in which he is revered.”
Howard said the pull of the Wolverines was too strong to bypass.
“I have been very fortunate to be part of a great championship organization in the Miami Heat for the last nine years — three as a player and six as a coach. It was always going to take something incredibly special to for me to leave Miami,” he said. "However, I know in my heart this is the right place and the right time.
“As a ‘Michigan Man’ I know the place our program has in college basketball and I embrace the chance to build onto that history and lead us to championships both in the Big Ten and national level. We will continue to develop young men on the court, in the classroom and in the community that our fan base will continue to be proud of.”
Howard’s Michigan contract is five years, listed by the school with a base of $400,000 annually, although that figure likely will exceed $2 million with other components factored in.
Howard’s candidacy received social-media support from former Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and former Wolverines teammates Jalen Rose and Chris Webber, among others.
And, ultimately, he also received the blessings of both Spoelstra and Riley.
"He will forever be a champion and part of the Heat family," Spoelstra said, "and I am excited to see him take the next step."
"I think it is a great step forward for him and the University," Riley said, "and I wish him nothing but the best, because that's what he's given us."
Howard, 46, this offseason had interviewed for since-filled NBA vacancies with the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was the filling of the Cavaliers vacancy by Michigan's John Beilein that created the Wolverines vacancy.
Howard was bypassed in the 2018 offseason after interviewing for coaching vacancies with the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets.
Howard has spent extensive time on the development of the Heat's big men, credited for his work first with Hassan Whiteside and more recently with 2017 first-round pick Bam Adebayo. He coached the Heat's 2016 summer-league team, his lone experience as a head coach on the NBA level. He has not previously coached collegiately.
Forward Udonis Haslem, who is mulling retirement, has previously said he does not envision a future in coaching, citing the travel and time away from his business interests.
It will mark the second consecutive offseason Spoelstra adjusts his staff, with several candidates now available after the changing of the staffs with the Lakers, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies. Among those released from assistant roles in those shakeups were former Heat forwards Ed Pinckney and James Posey, with former Heat guard Tim Hardaway still available after being let go as a Detroit Pistons assistant during the 2018 offseason.
Spoelstra made a minor tweak with his staff last season, with former Heat guard Anthony Carter added as a developmental coach, frequently remaining behind on road trips to work with injured or rehabilitating players.
Spoelstra previously returned assistant Dan Craig to his staff and added Octavio De La Grana as an assistant in 2016-17, after David Fizdale left to become coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, accompanied in that move by then-Heat assistant Keith Smart.
Prior to that move, the previous shakeup of Spoelstra's staff came after the 2013-14 season, when Bob McAdoo was transitioned to a scouting role and Ron Rothstein to a broadcasting role, with former Heat guard Chris Quinn and Smart added as assistants.
Howard was added as a Heat assistant when Keith Askins moved into the front office after the 2012-13 season. That move came after Howard returned to the Heat roster for the later stages of the '12-13 championship season.