Michigan's punishment of Juwan Howard is weak and self-serving
Michigan’s 5-game suspension of basketball coach Juwan Howard isn’t as embarrassing as a grown man being held back from attacking another grown man by a group of college students.
But it’s damn close.
As more time passed Monday, it was increasingly clear that Howard wasn’t going to be fired for his oversized part in Sunday’s postgame scuffle with Wisconsin.
Fine. That’s Michigan’s prerogative. Plenty of other Big Ten programs have been led by talented man-children over the years, including Woody Hayes at Ohio State and Bobby Knight at Indiana. Hard to break with tradition, I guess.
But 5 games is an incredibly toothless punishment for what occurred. It feels slightly preposterous that Howard could hit another coach in the face — in the face! — then be permitted to coach in the postseason.
In any other line of work, he’d be sent packing.
Howard abdicated every duty expected of a coach. Of leadership. Hitting another coach is bad enough. But it wasn’t even the worst part of the situation.
Howard’s actions directly inspired his team to jump into the fray. As a result of that selfishness and idiocy, the Wolverines are without Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams for a crucial game against Rutgers. Both players threw punches in the ensuing fracas.
Again, Michigan has every right to keep such fine leadership around. That’s Howard’s employer, and Michigan gets to live with the consequences of whatever fool thing he decides to do next. Because he’s already shown it’s likely there will be a next time.
The Turgeon incident
In last season’s Big Ten Tournament game against Maryland, Howard had to be restrained from going after Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon. If not for the intervention of multiple assistants, Howard absolutely would have whupped Turgeon’s hide in the middle of a game.
Even if Turgeon somehow had it coming, it goes without saying that a coach can’t respond as Howard did. He was rightfully ejected.
This was strike one for Juwan Howard last year.
He went after then Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon.pic.twitter.com/hcD7QDtev8
— Scott Abraham (@Scott7news) February 20, 2022
In both situations, Howard claimed self-defense as the root of his actions.
Howard is 11 inches taller than Turgeon and has a significant size advantage on Gard as well. Perhaps he is being truthful, but the explanation rings as disingenuous. It seems more likely that he has a hair-trigger temper when he perceives people are behaving like jerks.
And maybe he’s right to think those guys were jerks in those situations. But his team can’t afford for him to lose his cool and try attacking them. If opposing coaches think you’re that much of a hothead, they’re never going to stop baiting you into doing something stupid.
Based on both incidents, it seems like Howard could use some help with anger management. Or turning the other cheek when he thinks someone has crossed the line. That isn’t going to happen in the 2 weeks leading up to the Big Ten Tournament.
If Michigan actually wanted to fix the situation, it would give Howard enough time to tame his temper. Or mandate that he find a way.
For his part, a previously unrepentant Howard apologized for what he did on Monday night. Suspension has a funny way of inspiring such things.
Quote from Juwan Howard pic.twitter.com/aKQUzXhWQx
— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn) February 22, 2022
A promise is fine and dandy, but Howard’s statement offers no concrete solutions as to how he will prevent this mistake from ever happening again. And I’m not sure how he — or anyone — can be expected to reach the level of self-reflection and self-improvement required to do so without an extended period of time to ruminate.
Instead, he gets to come back and coach the most important games of Michigan’s season. Because the Wolverines are a bubble team trying to reach the NCAA tournament. And that appears to be what matters most to Michigan.
Again, nearly as embarrassing as the incident that made discipline necessary in the first place.
Big Ten policy needs revision
It would make sense for the league office to overrule Michigan and say “No. Coach Howard won’t be on the sidelines for a Big Ten game the remainder of this season.” Which would include the conference tournament.
But the Big Ten doesn’t have that power.
According to the Big Ten rulebook, a coach can only be suspended for a maximum of 2 games by the league itself. Anything exceeding that must be handed out by the member schools themselves.
Re. Juwan Howard's impending suspension will be, per the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy, the league office is limited to 2 games and a $10,000 fine.
That said, anticipate the league and Michigan to jointly issue the penalty, meaning U-M can add its own additional games/sanctions. pic.twitter.com/k24mk35wNz
— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn) February 20, 2022
By those standards, Michigan’s suggested 5-game suspension and $40,000 fine for Howard are downright draconian. Which only means the standards aren’t good enough.
That rings true for both sides in this case. Gard ended up with the max $10,000 fine from the league for his role in the brouhaha, which is the same amount he could have expected to be taken from his pocket for publicly criticizing referees. Those are not equivalent situations, even if he lacked any aggressive intent when grabbing Howard’s arm.
It will require some offseason revision to the rulebook, but member schools should not have the last say over the conference itself when it comes to applying discipline when situations like this arise.
Or you won’t really have punishments at all.