Juwan Howard needs to go -- and so does the postgame handshake line
Juwan Howard is done.
If the University of Michigan has any integrity as an institution of higher learning, there’s no coming back from Howard’s stunning lapse of judgement Sunday.
That Howard is one of the most decorated and beloved players in program history is no longer relevant. The moment he slapped Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft upside the head in a postgame melee of his own making, Howard tossed 30 years of goodwill to the bottom of Lake Huron.
A fight broke out between Michigan and Wisconsin during the postgame handshake line. pic.twitter.com/AiWIwyzj8w
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 20, 2022
It’s embarrassing. In the moment preceding Howard’s swipe, no fewer than 4 Wolverines players attempt to pull their coach back to de-escalate the situation.
College kids. Trying to prevent a grown-ass man from starting a fight. Which is exactly the opposite of how that dynamic is supposed to work. And when it didn’t, the players naturally took up the fight for themselves.
In that fleeting moment, Howard demonstrated that he is unfit to be a leader of young men. Which, to be clear, should not disqualify him from sharing his basketball knowledge among the grown men in the NBA. And surely he’ll be preparing his resume soon enough.
As it pertains to Michigan, there is no way to come back from this.
In no other line of work could someone take a swing at a colleague and keep their job. Howard shouldn’t be an exception to that rule — especially given that he was the one escalating the entire situation.
If Howard had been protecting one of his players, we could talk about a suspension being sufficient. But every bit of this situation was of Howard’s making. He was the bully.
Sure, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard called a frivolous timeout with 15 seconds left. But the right move is to put that moment in your team’s memory banks and beat the crap out of the Badgers the next time you see them. Figuratively, not literally.
A Woody Hayes moment
Ironically, the most appropriate allegory for Michigan’s current situation is drawn from its most hated rival.
At the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl, Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson defensive tackle Charlie Bauman in the throat after Bauman’s game-clinching interception.
It’s not an entirely apples-to-apples comparison.
Hayes’ offense was far more egregious. He attacked a student-athlete rather than another coach, and only because he was a sore loser. Howard at least swung at another grown-up after being triggered by a moment of questionable sportsmanship.
But the end result needs to be the same.
Ohio State fired Hayes the next day despite 28 seasons of success. Howard, in just his third season as Michigan’s head coach, doesn’t have nearly the same laurels to fall back on. Not even being a member of the legendary Fab Five can get him out of this jam.
While Howard will go down in infamy for what happened, it’s also important to note that he isn’t the only problem here. This was bound to happen at some point. Juwan Howard just happened to be the guy who lost the lottery.
Postgame handshake lines: A ticking time bomb
Postgame handshakes in basketball have been a powder keg for years, waiting for the right confluence of events to blow up. We finally reached that point on Sunday.
For the sake of preventing more incidents like this, the solution is to eliminate them altogether.
Had he simply cooled down for 5 minutes after the game, I’d wager there’s no chance Howard would have swung at anyone. The final buzzer is when emotions peak, and perhaps the absolute worst time for sharing niceties with the guys you’ve been battling in a 94-x-50 space for the previous 40 minutes.
Though the handshake line is ostensibly meant to be a show of good sportsmanship, it creates far too much likelihood that we will instead see the worst possible sportsmanship on display.
Some may point out that the handshake line works out just fine after a playoff series in hockey. And that’s true. But the handshake line doesn’t take place at the end of every regular-season game. It is reserved for the moment that one of the teams is eliminated.
Perhaps the finality takes some bite out of a potential fight. Or more likely, the nature of hockey helps. Guys who have been beating the crap out of one another for 4-to-7 games don’t have much need for another brawl.
Basketball is different. You don’t have the primal release of slamming your opponent into the boards, or literally dropping the gloves to fight him in the middle of the game. The emotions stay pent up. And when those emotions stack together, a moment like Gard’s ridiculous late timeout can set you off.
If sportsmanship is that important, there’s plenty of time for guys to shake hands and dap up before the game starts. And frankly it makes more sense. It’s a moment where players and coaches can share mutual respect, and referees can eliminate any BS from the jump.
After the buzzer sounds, there are no more rules. And that makes the situation ripe for anarchy.
That’s not to say we need to ban postgame handshakes outright. If guys are actually in the mood, nothing should stop them from seeking out those opponents they want to give props to. But allow them to do so on an individual basis rather than making a postgame handshake line a mandatory staple.
This tends to be how it works in football — and it does work. Guys swap jerseys, not fisticuffs.
Firing Juwan Howard is Michigan’s correct course of action. But it shouldn’t be the lone action taken here.
For the Big Ten as a whole, eliminating the postgame handshake line would go a long way in making sure something like this doesn’t happen again.