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Michigan hire, Penny’s progress have college basketball’s attention

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A program introducing a former NBA player as coach without college coaching experience, as Michigan will formally do with Juwan Howard on Thursday, isn’t necessarily a new thing. Several high-major schools have done it in recent years, with St. John’s hiring Chris Mullin, Georgetown bringing back Patrick Ewing and Memphis going for Penny Hardaway. Iowa State went for Fred Hoiberg and Alabama hired Avery Johnson. There was FIU hiring Isiah Thomas and FAU hiring Michael Curry. Tulane springing for Mike Dunleavy Sr., Portland hiring Terry Porter and Charlotte bringing in Mark Price. Dan Majerle was tapped for the Grand Canyon job. And it’s a trend that goes even further back, when Houston hired Clyde Drexler in 1998.

Most of these moves have not worked out. But with Hardaway’s recruiting success, Michigan bringing back Howard and Vanderbilt hiring Jerry Stackhouse, it’s a movement that’s continuing to gain steam. So we spoke to a half-dozen college coaches with experience working with college and NBA coaches to figure out what’s behind the trend.

What’s the appeal of guys like Juwan and Penny?

There have been several instances of a school hiring a former playing great to help breathe some life back into a program. It’s part of the reason St. John’s went for Mullin and Georgetown went for Ewing, and it’s certainly the reason Memphis fired Tubby Smith to bring in Hardaway.

Getting a legendary name is sometimes enough to make a hire.

“You are capable of winning the press conference just by making a splash, by getting a household name,” said one coach who has worked on both college and pro staffs. “From a recruiting standpoint, you’re able to walk into a living room or walk into a gym, and there’s already some notoriety, there’s some buzz. Maybe he’s proven, maybe he’s not. But you don’t have to go on Google and do research on who he is. It’s the eye test, the immediate relevance. Schools get excited about that.”

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