Michigan coach Juwan Howard suspended 5 games for striking Wisconsin assistant
As the Wolverines enter a brutal home stretch that could make or break their postseason hopes, they’ll be without their head coach.
The Big Ten, in collaboration with Michigan and Wisconsin, announced Monday that Juwan Howard has been suspended for the final five regular-season games and fined $40,000 for his role Sunday’s postgame altercation when he struck Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft in the head and sparked a skirmish at the Kohl Center.
"After taking time to reflect on all that happened, I realize how unacceptable both my actions and words were, and how they affected so many. I am truly sorry," Howard said in a statement. "I am offering my sincerest apology to my players and their families, my staff, my family and the Michigan fans around the world. I would like to personally apologize to Wisconsin's assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft and his family, too.
"Lastly, I speak a lot about being a Michigan man and representing the University of Michigan with class and pride, I did not do that, nor did I set the right example in the right way for my student-athletes. I will learn from my mistake and this mistake will never happen again."
Howard will miss Michigan’s upcoming home games against Rutgers on Wednesday and Illinois on Sunday, as well as the rivalry rematch against Michigan State on March 1, the home finale against Iowa on March 3 and the regular-season finale at Ohio State on March 6.
It's unclear if Howard will be paid during the suspension. According to a program spokesperson, Howard won't have access to campus facilities and can't attend any team activities, like practices or film sessions, during the suspension.
The Wolverines (14-11, 8-7 Big Ten) are on the NCAA Tournament bubble and need to make a push to improve their case to be included in the 68-team field.
With Howard out, assistant coach Phil Martelli will serve as acting head coach and director of basketball operations Chris Hunter will be elevated to the third assistant position, alongside Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley.
Howard could return to the sideline for the Big Ten tournament, which starts on March 9 in Indianapolis. Before his reinstatement, however, "all parties will meet to make a final decision prior to the Big Ten Tournament and any postseason participation," according to a release from Michigan.
In other disciplinary measures, Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard was fined $10,000 but was not suspended. Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II and Wisconsin’s Jahcobi Neath have been suspended for one game for throwing punches in the scrum.
“Big Ten conference coaches and student-athletes are expected to display the highest level of sportsmanship conduct,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “I am grateful for the partnership with Michigan athletics director, Warde Manuel and Wisconsin athletics director, Chris McIntosh.
"Our expectation is that the incident (Sunday) will provide our coaches and student-athletes with the opportunity to reflect, learn and move forward in a manner that demonstrates decorum and leadership on and off of the court.”
All suspensions are effective immediately and the individuals who were punished all violated the Big Ten’s sportsmanship policy, according to the conference’s statement. Manuel also “proactively addressed” Howard’s five-game suspension with Warren.
"Today's disciplinary actions underscore the seriousness with which we take the incident that unfolded on Sunday," Manuel said in a statement. "Simply put, there is no room at Michigan for the behavior we saw. We will learn from this incident as a department, work to improve ourselves while operating under a spotlight, and move forward in a positive light."
McIntosh also released a statement after the Big Ten doled out its punishment, stating that there's "no place in college athletics" for what happened on Sunday.
"Neither Coach Gard nor his staff had any intent to provoke or incite any of what took place," McIntosh said. "I want to commend those on our staff — and student-athletes — who were trying to de-escalate the situation.
"Our staff has my complete support, as do our student-athletes. I consider the $10,000 fine from the Big Ten to be a 'Wisconsin fine' and not a 'Greg Gard fine.' Wisconsin athletics will assume the responsibility for paying the fine."
Following Sunday’s 77-63 loss, Howard said he took exception to Gard calling a timeout with 15 seconds left when the Badgers were up by 15 points. At that point, the Wolverines had multiple starters on the floor and the Badgers had emptied their bench with five little-used reserves.
Michigan was still playing defense — Gard called it a press and Howard called it man-to-man pressure — and Wisconsin was struggling to get the ball past half court. Gard explained he didn’t want to put his players in a bad position, so he took the timeout to give his team a full 10 seconds to advance the ball — instead of the four seconds it had left after the ball was knocked out of bounds — and run out the clock.
“They can do that and play the game all the way out,” Gard said. “We did the same thing by taking the timeout to help my players get organized.”
When the two coaches met in the handshake line, Howard let Gard know he didn’t like the late timeout. That’s when Gard, in an attempt to offer an explanation, grabbed Howard’s arm and stopped him from walking by.
“I think that was very uncalled for him to touch me,” said Howard, who didn't take blame or apologize for his actions after the game. “There wasn't cause for that when we're talking. At that point, I thought it was time to protect myself.”
Things escalated from there, as Howard and Gard exchanged words and both sides started jostling. Howard struck Krabbenhoft in the face with an open hand and a scuffle broke out with several players throwing punches.
“Unfortunately, it ended up like that. I didn't like it being that way,” Howard said Sunday when asked about his players joining the fight. “But you know what, I respect our young men for saying what they’re saying as far as we are a family, truly. But I did not want it to be a situation where it escalated like that.”
But it did. And now Howard must pay the price for his postgame behavior and the Wolverines must forge ahead for the next couple of weeks without him.