Juwan Howard Should Have Been Fired

It's always a little crazy when a high-profile physical altercation during a game of sportsball happens right on national television. It happened when Billy Martin went after Reggie Jackson in 1977, and it happened after the Wisconsin/Michigan men's basketball game last Sunday. In both cases, you didn't even need cable to see the scuffle.

In case you missed it, the short story is that Michigan head coach Juwan Howard didn't take too kindly to Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard calling a timeout with under a minute left in a blowout Wisconsin victory. As Seth Fisher, writer of a "Zaprudering" deep dive on it for the Michigan site MGoBlog puts it, "As the coaches crossed in the handshake line, Howard told Gard, 'I'll remember that s**t.'

"At this point, Gard stepped in front with a 'Woah, hey' and grabbed Howard's arm to stop him from going by. It's plausible Gard meant to explain his timeout, but the physicality clearly angered Howard, who grabbed Gard's sweater, then let it go and put his finger in Gard's face, repeating 'Don't touch me, don't f*****g touch me.'"

I think a better word for Gard's intentions than "plausible" is "likely." Extremely likely. What, was Gard going chew him out for saying "I'll remember that s**t?" Tell him to put up his dukes?

Anyway, so they started jawing at each other, which made everyone nearby crowd around and (in one way or another) brace themselves. Then Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said something that seemed to catch everyone within earshot's attention and prompted Howard to take a swing at him.

Some more stuff happened, more blows of one stripe or another were exchanged among some of the players and staff of both teams, but Howard's swing was the money shot.

Afterwards, Howard reiterated that he was angry that Gard called a timeout in that situation. Gard defended himself by saying he called timeout because Michigan was pressing on defense, which created a situation where the Badgers were in danger of a 10-second violation. Since Gard was playing reserves and walk-ons at this point, he wanted to give them, as players, more of a fighting chance to run a play; it had nothing to do with the score or rubbing it in (if you believe Gard, and I do).

Many others have pointed out that if Howard is going to press with the outcome no longer in doubt, he shouldn't be mad if the other team calls timeout with the outcome no longer in doubt.

But as this Seth Davis twitter thread reveals, Howard has called timeouts with less than a minute to go when both trailing and winning by double digits in the final minutes just in 2022.

It's tangential to my main point, but all of this makes it seem to me that Howard is one of those people who is incapable of seeing things from a perspective outside of his own. He can call timeouts with the outcome decided (or call a full court press in that scenario), but to do so against UM can only mean disrespect was intended.

This is one of the reasons I am skeptical that Howard, who made all the right apologies and is taking his five game suspension, is going to be any different in the long run. His temper has got him in trouble before and it will again.

It should be a moot point, though, because (and here again, I'm not saying anything hundreds of others haven't already said) if any of us working regular jobs had taken a swing at a work colleague, we would be fired.

And, you know, we should be? It shouldn't be controversial that "don't instigate violence against people on the job" is an auto-fire everywhere.

Which brings me back to the Fisher's MGoBlog piece. Now, he prefaces his comments by saying that he is "trying as best I can to set aside my obvious Michigan biases," and, full disclosure, I am an Ohio State alum and superfan, so I need to check myself, too.

But whether or not his opinions are colored by bias or not, he swings and misses on a couple of points. He says, "Firing him would seem drastic. His action sparked a melee that could have resulted in serious injuries. It was also a slap, an action which we'd call a 15-yard penalty in football, a two-minute roughing minor in hockey, or a "routine basketball play" on the same court an hour earlier."

While he is correct that similar behavior by athletes during the course of play would not and should not warrant a sacking, Howard is not an athlete. If you want to give him the benefit of the doubt by pointing out that he's passionately trying to lead his team while on the literal precipice of the field of play, you must also realize that he's not a water boy or a graduate assistant, but the head coach, a leader, and office decorum rules for him must apply. Like they did for Woody Hayes. And Bobby Knight.

Fisher places the weight of the blame on Howard, but then undermines that weight by putting emphasis on the lack of a real fist, or technique by Howard that could cause any meaningful damage. "Down-slappily head-wuggled," "half-slap/half-face mush," and "slappyfwish" are some of the terms he used to describe it. The force or injurious technique Howard threw down with is 100% besides the point. Fisher wants credit for laying responsibility for the incident at the feet of Howard, but these goofy terms only serve to subtly underscore a "no big deal" narrative.

This is a big deal. Howard's punishment, which should have been termination, will allow him to put it behind him very quickly. Too quickly. That's what makes the title of Fisher's piece, "The Point is it's Not Happening Again," evoke piteous laughter. Howard's contrition and desire to do better, however truly felt, will fade away like rain streaks on a windowpane. He's 49 and this is who he is. This will absolutely happen again, and I'd bet folding money that whatever form Howard's eventual departure from Michigan takes, it will be an ignominious one in a cloud of his temper.

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