Juwan Howard Crossed The Line
On the altercation after yesterday's Wisconsin game, how it's being discussed, and what happens next.
I must admit I changed the channel before all hell broke loose.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Juwan Howard threw an open-hand strike at a Wisconsin basketball assistant coach during an altercation after Michigan’s 77-63 loss at the Kohl Center. The Big Ten is currently determining his initial punishment, though they’re limited in what they can do; the rest is in the hands of Michigan’s athletic department.
Howard was evidently furious that UW coach Greg Gard called a timeout in the final minute of a blowout. He appeared to be giving Gard the cold shoulder in the handshake line, and when Gard grabbed his arm, he lost his temper:
This all happened as the women’s team was taking the court for their eventual, critical victory over Maryland, which gives Michigan control of their own destiny in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, Howard’s actions cast a shadow over that game, and he also put his own future — particularly for the rest of this season — in doubt.
After watching the postgame fracas and reading way too much of the resulting discourse, here are some semi-organized thoughts on the situation.
1. There’s no excuse for Howard’s behavior. Barring a revelation that something truly beyond the pale was said in the scuffle, which one would think would’ve come up in the postgame press conference, there’s no good reason for Howard to strike an opposing coach. Yes, members of Wisconsin’s staff acted inappropriately. Nobody acted more out of line than Howard, who escalated a verbal disagreement into a near-brawl.
2. Howard’s precedent does not help his cause. In last year’s Big Ten Tournament, officials ejected Howard from the Maryland game following heated words between the Michigan coach — who had to be restrained by an assistant — and Terps coach Mark Turgeon.
While this didn’t become physical, Turgeon claimed Howard threatened “I'll fucking kill you” during the argument. Howard apologized afterwards and avoided a suspension.
3. Michigan botched the postgame press conference. This one is only partly on Howard, who was wholly unapologetic when questioned by reporters after the game. Should Howard have immediately apologized for his actions? Yes. Should a media relations staffer have done everything short of cut the power to the building if Howard wasn’t going to apologize? Also yes.
Instead, a statement from Warde Manuel that wasn’t at all in line with what Howard said in the presser went out shortly afterwards:
A version of this needed to be said by Howard after the game. Instead, he deflected blame to Gard for escalating the situation. This was an avoidable own goal. Howard was obviously heated; someone else had to step in and ensure he didn’t make matters worse in the press conference, but Michigan failed to do so.
4. I believe this will result in a suspension, not a firing. The last sentence of Manuel’s statement lends credence to this opinion. The Big Ten, by rule, can only hand out a maximum two-game suspension and $10,000 fine.
While Howard deserves and will likely receive a longer suspension from the university itself, firing him feels like an overreaction so long as he apologizes and avoids a similar incident in the future. Suspending Howard for the rest of the 2021-22 season seems like an appropriate punishment.
5. “Keep your hands to yourself” also applies to Wisconsin’s coaches. Howard isn’t the only coach who should at least receive a reprimand. No good was going to come from Gard grabbing Howard and I don’t blame the latter for being upset about it. (Do I think, as Howard stated, that he needed to “defend” himself after? No.)
Then Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft entered the scrum and put his hands on Michigan player Terrance Williams, who was jawing but by my view not threatening any physical action. That incited the blow from Howard — which, again, was a huge overreaction — and Krabbenhoft should be disciplined, too.
6. Williams and Moussa Diabate will be suspended, too. Both players threw punches after Howard began the melee in earnest. That’s a cut-and-dry suspension, as well as another reason why Howard needs to face serious discipline — he set the example that his players followed.
7. These things can all be true and you can still criticize certain reactions. Howard deserves criticism for his actions. There are certain media members, however, who have taken the opportunity to let loose some coded language, in case we’ve forgotten that Howard is Black in a sport with mostly white coaches and media.
CBS’s Jerry Palm all but openly questioned Howard’s mental health, a line that I find wildly inappropriate for a national reporter (or anyone) to cross:
I couldn’t find any instances of Palm saying this after other coaches got into physical or other incidents, even regarding those whose behavior crossed into player abuse.
ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg, a former coach himself, used Howard’s past words to make a point. Regrettably, those past words regard Howard growing up on the South side of Chicago, and they sound a whole lot different coming from Greenberg:
Twitter and message board reactions crossed into full-blown racist tropes, because of course they did. It’s okay to point this out and still find Howard in the wrong.
8. While the actual basketball is secondary now, that also got tougher. Michigan turns around to play Wednesday night against a red-hot Rutgers squad. The schedule only gets more difficult from there:
After RU, there are three functional coin-flips and a presumed loss. In all likelihood, Michigan will be navigating these games without their head coach and, for at least some of them, their starting power forward and a key backup. To say the least, these aren’t ideal circumstances while pushing for a tourney bid.
9. How Howard responds will be instructive. First, we need to see what kind of apology Howard gives now that he’s staring down a lengthy suspension and has had time to cool off. Then comes the hard part: continuing to coach and recruit with his hallmark passion without crossing the line into another outburst.
I have to imagine a third strike would force Michigan’s hand. Howard will be coaching under a zero-tolerance policy, and while that’s navigable, it’s not easy on him or an athletic department that’s already dealing with more than its fair share of turmoil.