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Posted on Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Former Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker returns to Ann Arbor on Saturday

By Michael Rothstein


Former Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker and Harvard take on Michigan on Saturday at 1 p.m.

File photo

Tommy Amaker isn’t sure how he’ll be received Saturday when he returns to Ann Arbor for the first time as a head coach since he was fired at Michigan in 2007.

The way he spoke during a Thursday teleconference, it’s tough to tell whether or not he cares.

“You guys would know better than me,” Amaker said. “Those are not questions for me to answer. You would know better.”

Will Amaker be looked at as the basketball coach who couldn’t finish what he started at Michigan? Or will he be viewed as the coach that picked a program up off the scrap heap and brought it close to respectability?

Those close to Amaker say looking back and playing what-if isn’t how he operates. He’ll see people he used to know, and he’ll recognize faces and the building.

Otherwise, life for the former Michigan coach Saturday will be a lot like any other road game when Harvard comes to Crisler Arena (1 p.m., Big Ten Network).

“We really haven’t talked about it, and we talk all the time,” said Eastern Michigan coach Charles E. Ramsey, a former Amaker assistant at Michigan. “Anyone who knows Tommy knows Tommy’s in the moment. Tommy is more interested in the game at hand, and this weekend it happens to be Michigan.

“… It hasn’t been anything that’s been on his conscience.”

Amaker was fired after six seasons at Michigan, inheriting a train wreck of a program following self-imposed and NCAA sanctions handed down from the Ed Martin scandal, including a postseason ban in 2002-03 and the loss of one scholarship from 2004-08.

He never reached the NCAA tournament while at Michigan, but made three NIT tournaments, including winning the 2004 NIT crown. With a 109-83 record at Michigan, he never finished higher than a tie for third place in the Big Ten. That came in 2002-03, the same year the Wolverines were ineligible for the postseason.

Amaker has been to one NCAA tournament in his 13-year head-coaching career, when he led Seton Hall to the the Sweet 16 in 2000.

When Michigan fired Amaker, he said nothing but positive things about his tenure in Ann Arbor. He stuck with that theme Thursday.

“I was very proud of the opportunity to teach, to lead and to serve,” Amaker said. “I mentioned all of that when I was fired and I had an opportunity to speak to the media and expressed some thoughts and feelings about my tenure at Michigan. I’ll always be grateful for the chance to represent that great school and be part of that state.

“It’s been, it seems like it’s been a lifetime ago since I was there.”

It's been just four seasons -- and Amaker’s return was coincidentally of his own doing. He’s the one who scheduled the two-for-one deal with Harvard. Michigan has a large alumni base near Boston, and Amaker recruited Courtney Sims and Kendric Price to Michigan from the area.

Amaker said when he took over at Harvard, they discussed not playing, but decided to go through with it.

“It’s not in his DNA, not in his makeup (to carry a grudge),” said Red Jenkins, Amaker's high school coach at T.C. Woodson in Northern Virginia. “When he was a sophomore in high school, I told him he had more character in his little finger than I have in my whole body.

“… Tommy is right at the top. He has no ill feeling toward Michigan. He accepted the decision, they made the decision, and he moved on.”

He moved to Harvard, where the Crimson are 5-1 this year and went 21-8 last year, the most wins in program history. His team beat Michigan the last time they played in 2007, 62-51.

It’s a place where he feels comfortable, where he’s winning again and has Harvard winning for the first time. It was that type of potential that drew Amaker to one of the nation’s most prestigious universities in the first place.

“It was an absolute tremendous job, tremendous,” Ramsey said. “If someone could go someplace and do something they have never done, that being the place, I thought he was the perfect fit.

“The absolute perfect fit.”

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Sat, Dec 4, 2010 : 6:50 a.m.

No, I think Michigan will win. InsideTheHall--interesting..."class" has pretty much never been a word I've associated with Duke. Great school academically, but the people...? But I'm from the South and looked very closely at attending Duke, more for college than for grad school (am a Michigan alum for grad school), so maybe I know more inside scoop than you do.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 2:15 p.m.

@Michiboy40: Its funny. I always thought that Beilien was in over his head. As a matter of fact, I know he is. @81wolverine: You think Beilein is ready for a big time coaching gig. Amaker is going to beat that incredibly slow M team on Saturday.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

tommy amaker should have been giving another year or two at um. his program never got off the ground because of the sanctions. i bet he beats um again this weekend.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 12:14 p.m.

Tommy has always had my respect... I'll stand and cheer for this man anytime. Go Blue!


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

Very classy person with a ton of integrity. It's too bad things didn't work out for him in Ann Arbor. His recruiting had just started to make good headway at the end of his tenure. But player development and disappointing results on the court doomed him. Maybe he just wasn't ready for a big-time coaching gig yet. I agree that Harvard is a really good fit with his cerebral approach to the game. He may yet become a very good Div. 1 coach someday. But, I'm grateful for him helping steer Michigan out of the "dark years" of the Ed Martin scandal, probation, and the Ellerbe fiasco.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 9:49 a.m.

It will be nice to have Amaker back in A2. He brought alot of class to a down and out team.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

The rest of the Big Ten should thank UM for firing him- he would have led the Wolves to a better future than beeline and three ring circus gimmick offense. His teams were tougher and smarter, and he would have brought in more Big Ten type athletes, instead of step slow off a pick three point shooters and lesser brothers and sons of real stars.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.

He will be greeted warmly by the fans. No question. He may have been in over his head at UM, but he was a good man.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 8:07 a.m.

I agree that Tommy Amaker is a good guy and a good coach. I also hope he receives a nice reception and ovation on Saturday for leading the U-M basketball program through some tough times, but I also hope his team loses on Saturday.


Fri, Dec 3, 2010 : 7:53 a.m.

Tommy is a good man who brought integrity back to the M BBall program. I will stand and applaud when Tommy is announced on Saturday. He's a class guy what you expect from a Dukie.