What Juwan Howard Did, and What Michigan Should Do About It

by | Feb 21, 2022 | Uncategorized | 11 comments

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

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11 Comments

  1. Pete Mooney

    Great piece John. I thought about your often-quoted Don Canham maxim yesterday. I think that the day for Warde Manual to announce his decision is today. You can watch yesterday’s melee 1000x like it’s the Zapruder film, but nothing material is going to change. It’s clear that Manual’s spoken to President Coleman from the press release yesterday, and presumably they are on the same page. There’s no reason to wait. As you said, getting out in front of it means that story begins to wind down rather than festering.

    Reply
  2. Robert Schaffer

    Well said friend JUB, but let’s give credit to our friend Pete Mooney for promptly reminding us (on The Twitter) of the content of the last paragraph!

    5 games – and a time with Mr. Hardin- all done.

    Reply
  3. Dowe Parsons

    Any disciplinary action should be predicated on Mr. Howard issuing an apology. This would mean Mr. Howard recognizes his actions were wrong and that his behavior needs to change. Without such an acknowledgement, any discipline is meaningless. Moreover, because the President and the Athletic Director have already apologized for his behavior, if Mr.Howard refuses to acknowledge and apologize,then he should be fired with cause. Otherwise, the University would have no basis of confidence that such behavior, or worse, would occur again. If Mr Howard apologizes and accepts responsibiity for his actions, then suitable discipline would be warranted.

    Reply
  4. Geoffrey Larcomski

    Solid take. And it’s fun how you can truly draw parallels from Huron hockey to U-M men’s basketball. And you are soooo right: Howard’s bond with his players is exceptional.

    Reply
  5. Mark Garman

    Enjoyed your thoughts. No mention of the referee helping Wisconsin coach with his “if you call time….”
    I thought all referees are supposed to remain neutral?
    Will the Big Ten punish the referee?

    Reply
  6. John Wilber

    Well said John. Michigan needs to clean this up quickly before the B1G steps in to do it for us.

    Reply
  7. Heidi Stock

    Well said. I agree with everything you’ve said, except that there are no heroes. Jaron Faulds inserted himself between the two HC’s in an attempt to de-escalate. He was in the middle of the hostilities and at real physical risk. Other players on the MI and WI sides took constructive steps to de-escalate and protect other players both on their teams and, in a couple instances, on the other team. There were heroes.

    Reply
  8. J Schaefer

    Well said. Thanks

    Reply
  9. Michael Barazia

    Especially like the comment regarding your Huron player in the handshake line. Just because someone else has a laps doesn’t mean you need to respond in kind…your organisation should have higher standards and your members should live up to these standards. As a billet parent for a Tier 1 Junior A hockey team I stress this with my players always.

    Reply
  10. GS

    I am so done with post-game press conferences where head coaches fan the flames of their own demise because they either ignore the counsel of the PR people put in place to guide them in such instances, or because university athletics departments fail to staff those incredibly important roles properly. Enough already.

    There are no greater alphas in the world than the captains of industry who lead major corporations, who not only listen to, but count on, the counsel of their communications teams for their guidance… especially in spontaneous crisis.

    Only in college sports do we have head coaches misguidedly handling their own reputation management, as if their personal “brand” exists in a vacuum with no impacts on the greater school community and as if their personal stake in the outcome (naturally) gives them the authority, if not the expertise.

    So done…

    Reply
  11. David Ellies

    Well said John U Bacon, old #14 on the Ann Arbor Huron hockey team. Your thoughts and comments are spot on and I’m glad AD Manuel took the initiative conferring with President Coleman and announcing the penalties for Coach Howard.

    Reply

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