On Sunday a back-and-forth between Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard spilled over to both teams and coaching staffs after the game ended. But it didn’t become national news until Howard recached out to slap the head of a Wisconsin assistant coach, which naturally has eclipsed everything that occurred before and after.
Michigan AD Warde Manuel released a strong, clearly worded statement last night, saying, in part, “There is no excuse for any of our staff or student-athletes to get into a physical altercation with others regardless of instigating factors.”
A very good start.
There is already plenty of blame to go around, and there will be more once the investigations by the Big Ten, both schools, and the media determine which coaches and players said and did what to whom. Right now those answers are still murky, but so far have revealed no heroes.
Howard has otherwise done an exceptional job leading his players on and off the court. The players I know say they don’t merely like and respect Howard. They love him – and for the right reasons, in my view.
I do not believe he will be fired over this, and shouldn’t be. But he is certain to be suspended, and should be. Though surely the worst incident of Howard’s coaching career, this is not his first post-game conflict – a pattern that must end, immediately.
But if I were the AD (and it should be noted here that, in fact, I am not), I would not wait for the Big Ten to determine Howard’s suspension. A few leadership principles apply here, which I’m drawing from my book, Let Them Lead.
First, instead of having a hundred rules, keep them few, but enforce them. As the Celtics’ legendary Red Auerbach said, “Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, or the Celtics.” You don’t need much else – and that simple edict applies here.
Second, when someone does violate that rule, it’s better to punish your own people than to wait for someone else to do it. When I coached the Ann Arbor Huron high school hockey team I wrote about in Let Them Lead, I told my players, “If an alcohol issue ends up on my desk, that means you can’t handle it, and you won’t like my solution. I will not give up on you, but I guarantee my solution will be harsher than the school’s.”
Yes, Wisconsin’s head coach, Greg Gard, and his assistants added fuel to the fire – and probably more than initially believed, particularly when one of their assistant pushed two of Howard’s players, which seems to be what finally set Howard off. Protecting your players is the right impulse, but Howard had the wrong reaction. But from where the Michigan athletic director sits, I don’t think the Badgers’ actions impact his choices very much.
When one of my players had a brief exchange with a mouthy opponent in the hand-shaking line, and I called him on it, he protested that the other guy started it. True enough, I said, “But he doesn’t play for Huron. You do. And we have higher standards.”
For all these reasons, if I were Michigan’s AD I would suspend Howard for the rest of the regular season – five games – to send a clear message that UM doesn’t tolerate such behavior, no matter how good the coach nor how complicated the circumstances. I would also underscore that nothing like this can happen again – period – and work with him to make sure it doesn’t.
Doing so would return Michigan to the high road, keep the Big Ten largely out of it, and leave the ball in Wisconsin’s court to clean up their own house – but that’s their issue, not Michigan’s.
I often quote Don Canham’s great advice: Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. That’s not an option here, as this story will run at least a week. But how much longer it runs will depend more on Michigan’s AD and head coach than anything else.
You can follow me on Twitter, and on my leadership podcast, LET THEM LEAD, at Letthemleadbybacon.com