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OUT OF CONTROL AT KOHL — A RAGING JUWAN HOWARD SHOULD BE FIRED
A racially anxious nation didn’t need the volatile Michigan coach to instigate a brawl, a reminder of college basketball’s cesspool stench just as America was rediscovering the sport
Back in the Neanderthal days of coaching evolution — a bully period buried by progress and humanity, we thought — one particular psycho was a regular visitor to the dark side. Bob/Bobby/Robert Montgomery Knight slugged a policeman in Puerto Rico, shoved an LSU fan into a trash can, whipped a chair across a court, banged his fist on a scorer’s table, grabbed a student by the arm, choked a player, head-butt a player and flipped a bullwhip at the backside of a bent-over player, who was Black.
But not even The Ogre grabbed and twisted an opposing coach’s sweater, then struck an assistant coach in the head and face with an overhand haymaker. Not even Knight triggered anything resembling what nearly became the college version of the 2004 NBA horror Malice at the Palace — Out of Control at Kohl.
Juwan Howard engaged in that ugly, violent behavior Sunday, inciting his Michigan players to throw their own punches at mostly peacemaking Wisconsin players after the Badgers’ 77-63 victory in Madison — literally, Mad Town. The longtime NBA player and assistant, best known for his role on trend-setting 1990s Fab Five teams in Ann Arbor, was last seen being restrained by a policeman as Howard wanted another piece of Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard, assistant Joe Krabbenhoft and anyone else in white and red. He’s fortunate he didn’t spark a full-scale riot, as a scrum of pushing, shoving and punching spilled into the front row of the Kohl Center stands.
It’s no overstatement, only a function of smarter and more sensible times in sports, when I reach this conclusion about Howard: He should be fired by a university — too often confused as an athletic factory as it is — that must recognize America as a racial inferno dangerously and needlessly stirred after a basketball game. It was impossible not to realize Howard is a Black coach, while Gard and Krabbenhoft are White coaches with more White players on their roster than Michigan. I do not wish to do head counts. Our country’s 2022 social condition requires it.
Nothing significant prompted Howard’s outburst, only a loser’s lament that Gard called two timeouts in the final minute, one with 15 seconds left. Petty gamesmanship? Perhaps. But for Howard to respond with a rampage is the latest blemish on a sport, college basketball, that never stops reminding us of its cesspool stench. March Madness must be nearing, with the jackpot associated with an NCAA tournament bid fading for Michigan, which reached the Elite Eight last year but lost for the 11th time in 25 games to a 15th-ranked opponent heading in the right direction. It’s unconscionable that Howard casually explained why the final timeout set him off, as if it justified his actions.
“I didn't like the timeout they called, and I'm being totally honest with you," he said. "I thought it was not necessary at that moment, especially with it being a large lead. ... I thought that wasn't fair to our guys. And so that's what happened."
He claimed someone from the Wisconsin side put a hand on him, and a now-viral replay shows Gard touching Howard’s arm in the handshake line — but only while trying to explain why he called the timeout. No doubt Howard instigated the fracas by grabbing Gard’s sweater and pointing a long finger in his face. Said Howard: “Someone touched me, and I think it was very uncalled for, for them to touch me, as we were verbalizing and communicating with one another. That's what escalated it.’’
Said Gard: "Apparently he didn't like that I called the timeout to reset the 10-second call. Because we only had four seconds to get the ball over half court. I didn't want to put my backups — I had all my bench guys in the game — I didn't want to put them in that position of scrambling with only four seconds. So I took a timeout and got us a new 10 seconds and it helped them get organized and get the ball in. And he did not like that when he came through the handshake line. I'll leave it at that and the tape will show the rest."
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Howard’s dismissal, no matter how uncivilized his conduct. The university might confer with the Big Ten Conference on a multi-game suspension, but that would be light given the reality of the optics. His superiors are acknowledging he was in the wrong, with athletic director Warde Manuel and school president Mary Sue Coleman quickly apologizing to the Wisconsin brass. "There is no excuse for any of our staff or student-athletes to get into a physical altercation with others regardless of instigating factors,’’ Manuel said in a statement. “I reached out and apologized to (Wisconsin AD) Chris McIntosh and President Coleman has reached out to UW Chancellor (Rebecca) Blank to apologize for totally unacceptable behavior. We will review the situation more thoroughly and work with the Big Ten as they determine their disciplinary actions and will determine if further disciplinary actions are warranted."
Oh, further actions are warranted. But the furor from a Howard firing would be greeted with significant backlash in the state, where he quickly made inroads against bitter rival Tom Izzo and Michigan State before this season’s U-turn. Until the Sunday mayhem, Howard was considered NBA head coaching material. But he allows his temper to overtake him, having to be restrained during last year’s Big Ten tournament when he engaged Maryland coach Mark Turgeon in a shouting match and was ejected.
McIntosh said staff members were “affected and injured’’ by Howard and the Michigan players — at least two of whom, Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams, tried to throw punches. ‘’There's no room, no space for conduct like that in any competition, much less a Big Ten competition," said McIntosh, demanding discipline from commissioner Kevin Warren, who can’t dock Howard beyond a two-game suspension and maximum $10,000 without the involvement of a special committee. “The Big Ten takes pride in sportsmanship. The Big Ten takes pride in acting with class. That didn't happen today.’’
The shame: America is just trying to rediscover college hoops. A thrilling NFL season is over. The Beijing Olympics were a non-watch. Major League Baseball is threatening to wreck a season with a lockout. The NBA is about superstar babysitting drama and postseason-berth manipulation. How great to be shown a glimpse of Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, who might be the national player of the year for a 21-5 team.
But there was Juwan Howard, one of the sport’s most recognizable figures, engaging in raging street warfare. He is too combustible to coach young people at a major university in anxious American times.
Want this chaos to happen again? Might it be worse? Then continue to employ him at the University of Michigan, which is supposed to educate students about life, not encourage them to meet failure with brutishness straight from the UFC Octagon.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.