ANN ARBOR, Mich.- Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard has been suspended the final five games of the regular season and fined $40,000 for hitting a Wisconsin assistant in the head, triggering a postgame melee.
The Big Ten Conference also on Monday suspended three players one game for the altercation following the Badgers’ 77-63 win on Sunday: Michigan’s Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II, and Jahcobi Neath of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard was fined $10,000 for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy, but was not suspended. Howard is expected to be back for the Big Ten tournament, which begins March 9 in Indianapolis.
“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,” Howard said Monday in a statement released by the university. “I am truly sorry.”
Phil Martelli will serve as Michigan’s interim coach in Howard’s absence. Michigan’s final five regular-season games are home contests with Rutgers on Wednesday, No. 15 Illinois on Sunday, Michigan State on March 1 and No. 25 Iowa on March 3 plus a visit to No. 22 Ohio State on March 6.
“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 yesterday 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.”
Howard, a former NBA player and the reigning Associated Press men’s coach of the year, was upset after Gard called a timeout with 15 seconds left and his team leading by 15 on Sunday.
The altercation began in the postgame handshake line, when Gard grabbed Howard by the arm in an attempt to explain why he called the timeout. Howard yelled “Don’t (expletive) touch me!” and put his right index finger in Gard’s face as the two began to argue.
“At that point, I felt it was time to protect myself,” Howard said in his postgame news conference.
After the two coaches were separated, Howard swung his right hand and struck Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft on the left side of the head with an open hand.
“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,” Howard said Sunday. “That’s what escalated it.”
Players from each side got involved in the skirmish, and video appeared to show Diabate and Neath throwing punches.
In his statement Monday, Howard apologized to Krabbenhoft as well as Michigan’s players and their families, his staff, his own family and “Michigan fans around the world.”
“I speak a lot about being a Michigan man and representing the University of Michigan with class and pride,” Howard said. “I did not do that, nor did I set the right example in the right way for my student-athletes. I will learn from this mistake, and this mistake will never happen again. No excuses!”
Gard said Sunday he took the timeout because his backup players had four seconds to get the ball across half court and he wanted to reset the clock to 10 seconds.
“Maybe he doesn’t know the rule, that you get the 10 seconds reset,” Gard said. “I wasn’t going to put my players in that type of situation, to have to break a press in four seconds coming in cold off the bench. I wouldn’t do that for a regular group. I can take a timeout. That gives my players the best chance to have success. So that’s where it started. He said, `I’ll remember that. I’ll remember that.’ I said, `Hey, let me tell you why I did.’ He didn’t want any part of that.”
Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh said he quickly contacted Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren about the situation after the game, adding that the Badgers had staff members who were “affected and injured,” during the altercation.
“There’s no room, no space for conduct like that in any competition, much less a Big Ten competition,” McIntosh said. “The Big Ten takes pride in sportsmanship. The Big Ten takes pride in acting with class. That didn’t happen today.”
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel issued a statement Sunday saying that he had apologized to McIntosh and that Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman had contacted Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank “to apologize for the totally unacceptable behavior.”
“Today’s disciplinary action underscores the seriousness with which we take the incident that unfolded on Sunday,” Manuel said Monday in a statement. “Simply put, there is no room at U-M 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.”
This isn’t Howard’s first high-profile incident with another Big Ten coach.
Last season, Howard got into a shouting match with then-Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and had to be restrained during the conference tournament. Howard drew two technical fouls and was ejected from a game Michigan ended up winning 79-66.
The Wolverines (14-11, 8-7) started the season with aspirations of contending for the national championship and are closing it trying to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
Howard is in his third season as Michigan’s coach after being part of Michigan’s Fab Five teams three decades ago. Last season, he helped the Wolverines win the Big Ten title, 23 games and reach the NCAA Tournament regional finals.
Diabate has 5.7 rebounds per game to rank second on Michigan’s team and also averages 9.3 points. Williams is a reserve forward playing 15.4 minutes per game.
Neath is a reserve guard playing 8.9 minutes per game for Wisconsin. He will miss the 13th-ranked Badgers’ game Wednesday at Minnesota.