It’s the line that gets dropped and repeated time and again when a coach with minimal experience or a lack of regional ties gets a head coaching gig.
“The staff will be so important.”
It’s cliched at this point, but it’s also true. A head coach sometimes is only as good as the three people he hires to be his assistants. The three people that will recruit the players to the program and help guide the day-to-day as much – if not more – than anyone. It gets repeated because it’s true. A coach fortifying his program with smart and pragmatic hires is paramount.
Juwan Howard appears to have just done exactly that at Michigan.
The newly-appointed Wolverines coach is adding former St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli to his staff, giving the first-time head coach who has never spent time on a bench at the collegiate level the benefit of an experienced, veteran head coach of over 20 years who has been a National Coach of the Year while winning and recruiting big at a mid-major program.
It is, to use another cliche, a home run hire.
Martelli, who was awkwardly fired from St. Joe’s after 24 years this spring, knows the college game as well as maybe anyone in the country. Whether it’s advice on recruiting, practice plans, games strategy, booster relations or working with an administration and compliance, Martelli is going to be able to give Howard an informed opinion on nearly any question that gets posed. Martelli has the precise profile of a former head coach that Howard was looking to add.
Sure, Martelli may not be a powerhouse on the recruiting trail for Michigan, but Howard’s NBA ties, as well as those of his other reported hire of Howard Eisley, and the college know-how and continuity of Saddi Washington, who is expected to be retained from John Beilein’s staff, the Wolverines should be pretty well set on the trail. Getting players is always the first step, but helping them win is the next – and often helps with the first. Martelli can be of serious service there, especially for Howard, who has experience as an assistant with the Miami Heat but whose last college experience came as a player 25 years ago.
One of the best signs that someone has the chops to make it in coaching – and maybe in any industry – is when they know what they don’t know. Howard’s hiring of Martelli suggests he’s aware of the shortcomings on his resume, and immediately sought to buttress those weaknesses with someone who has serious, high-level experience. There’s a long way to go before we can even begin to judge the Howard era in Ann Arbor, but the first steps seem to be on the right path.