On Sunday afternoon, a 14-point win for the Wisconsin Badgers over the Michigan Wolverines dominated the sports world. Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis had 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting and the Badgers moved to 12-4 in the Big Ten, but that wasn’t the story. The story is what happened in the handshake line between UW head coach Greg Gard and Michigan head coach Juwan Howard. The confrontation went from a shouting match between the coaches to an all out brawl between the two programs that included players throwing closed-fist punches and Howard hitting Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft.
How in the world did we get here? With 22 seconds left, Michigan’s DeVante Jones made a layup to cut the Badger lead to…15. At this point, Gard has relieved his starters and put his backups on the floor. After the made basket, Howard has his team in a full court press – or at least something that looks very similar. Gard, seeing that Howard is still actively coaching the game, calls a timeout to reset the 10-second clock to get the ball across half court.
Seems reasonable enough. The unwritten rule is that the team on the wrong end of a blowout gets to decide when the game is effectively over. Once they call off the dogs, the winning team should follow suit. But until then, the winning coach has the right to keep coaching and playing the game in a serious manner. Howard kept coaching his guys, so did Gard.
Well, Howard didn’t like that. At all. In the line, Howard lets Gard know that he will “remember that” to which Gard objects and things get out of hand quickly.
What happened next, happened fast. Gard puts his hand on Howard which sends Howard to another level and then other assistants and players get involved. We don’t know what was said by Badgers assistant Krabbenhoft, but he clearly said something offensive to the point that Howard physically attacked the coach. That leads to players yelling at each other and eventually punches are thrown elsewhere in the scrum.
This simply cannot happen. No if, ands, or buts about it. You can’t have coaches getting into physical fights on the floor, and there are a couple reasons for this. First, it’s childish and not a good look for either program. If you’re mad, let it be known by doing a blow by in the handshake line and move on with your life. If you must say something then say it, but any touching beyond a handshake is ridiculous.
Here’s the most important thing, and perhaps something that has been forgotten at the college level. College athletes, for the most part, are somewhere between 18 and 22 years old. For those four years or so of school, one of the most influential people in that athlete’s life is the head coach of his or her team. Players spend more time with coaches than their own families across that stretch, and the coach, if they are doing a good job, will become a person that an athlete will absolutely go to bat for. Or, go to fight for.
It is absolutely in the job description of a coach at this level to be a positive influence on their athletes’ lives and to show them how to conduct themselves. Greg Gard and Juwan Howard failed to do that on Sunday. What young people saw on Sunday was two grown men get so entangled in their own egos that it led to physical altercation. Even if Howard was offended by Gard touching him, he swung at A DIFFERENT COACH. So, the whole “I was protecting myself” thing kind of goes out the window.
Is the fighting a bad look? Of course. Should Juwan Howard be suspended at least until the end of the regular season for this? I would agree with that punishment. But what’s really unfortunate is the example two leaders set for the young, formidable players they have the privilege of leading.
We don’t have all the details, we don’t know exactly what was said and what caused Howard to respond the way he did. But one thing is for sure, both coaches are to blame. Do better, Greg. Do better, Juwan.
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