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What’s next for Juwan Howard and Michigan?

| Tuesday, February 22, 2022

This past Sunday, Michigan head basketball coach Juwan Howard got into an altercation with the coaching staff of the University of Wisconsin. The incident followed a 63-77 loss for Michigan at the hands of the Badgers. During the game, Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard called a timeout with 15 seconds left on the clock and a double-digit lead. Doing so, he broke one of basketball’s unwritten rules.  

Howard took offense and attempted to snub Gard after the game, when the two coaches would usually meet at half court for a handshake. Howard’s actions upset Gard, and a verbal altercation ensued. The two were eventually separated by players and coaches, but the incident was not over yet. As others led him away from the skirmish, Howard attempted to strike Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft. Now, Howard has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season.

This has been an extremely frustrating year for the Michigan men’s basketball team. Last year, the team won the Big Ten regular-season championship and was one game away from the Final Four. They were ranked No. 6 overall in this year’s preseason AP Poll and were expected to be a legitimate title contender. The team has not lived up to these expectations.  

The Wolverines currently have a mediocre record of 14-11. So far this year, they have sustained double-digit losses to their rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan fans started the season hoping for an NCAA Championship — now they’re praying that their team just makes the tournament.

But the Wolverines’ schedule is extremely difficult down the stretch. In the next two weeks, they will have to face several top-25 teams including Illinois and Iowa. I find it very hard to believe that this year’s Michigan team can still make the NCAA tournament. 

Despite the struggles of the team, the University of Michigan now has a much bigger problem on its hands. Their head coach has displayed a clear lack of leadership and control. What Howard did on Sunday is nearly unprecedented in the history of Division 1 college basketball. Can you imagine someone like Coach K or John Calipari trying to punch an opposing head coach? It just doesn’t happen.

Of course, players will fight from time to time. It would be crazy to think that a group college-aged men would never lose their cool, especially when you consider they’re in the heat of competition.

But the coach? The coach is supposed to be the stoic leader. The coach acts as an example of how to compete hard and do things the right way. He is the father figure. What Howard did on Sunday goes against all of this. He behaved the very way that most coaches would admonish a player for behaving. Now, he and his players have to pay the price.

I can’t believe Howard didn’t get more than what will end up being a five-game regular-season suspension. At the very least, he should have been suspended through the postseason, if Michigan even has one. It will be a bad look for the University of Michigan to have Howard back on the court this year. It shows a lack of leadership and control on the part of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel and the entire athletic department.      

Nonetheless, Howard should feel lucky that he is getting away with just a suspension. Many believed there was a real chance that he could be fired. The incident that occurred on Sunday was not the first time that Howard has exhibited a lack of control over his emotions. Howard was ejected for a verbal altercation with Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon last year. That argument took place during a Big​ Ten Tournament game against the Terrapins. Coaches and players held Howard back as he charged out at the opposing coach. Allegedly, people heard him screaming at Turgeon, “I’ll f*cking kill you.”

Given his previous misconduct and this Sunday’s incident, many in the Detroit and national media called for Howard’s firing. I can’t blame anyone for thinking that Howard should have been fired after what he did. Yet, I understand why he wasn’t.

Howard may have some issues with his temper, but the truth is that he is an outstanding recruiter. Michigan had the No. 3 overall recruiting class in 2021 and is already ranked as No. 7 overall for 2022, according to 247Sports. In a world where the recruiting process has become extremely difficult and complicated, Howard has found a way to get talented athletes to play for the University of Michigan. That is what kept him around.

Howard has not apologized for Sunday’s incident, and I doubt he ever will. Whether or not that’s right or wrong doesn’t really matter. What matters is that that’s who Juwan is. He’s passionate, petty, stubborn and sometimes acts too much like the very players he’s coaching. However, he gets kids to want to play for the University of Michigan.

In my opinion, keeping Juwan Howard is a risk. Who knows if he’ll have another incident like this and embarrass the University of Michigan once again? Yet, it’s a risk the University of Michigan decided to take, and I can’t blame them.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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