Niyo: Turgeon’s beef with Howard boils over into full brouhaha

Each coach has his side as to how the heated altercation started Friday,…

Niyo: Turgeon's beef with Howard boils over into full brouhaha 1

John Niyo
| The Detroit News

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UM’s Juwan Howard on ejection: ‘You can’t let emotions get the best of you’

Michigan coach explains exchange with Maryland coach that led to his ejection in the second half Friday.

The Detroit News

Indianapolis — College coaches tend to be a bit territorial.

So, really, this was bound to happen at some point, what we saw unfold here Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, where top-seeded Michigan’s runaway win over Maryland in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals was interrupted by a heated sideline altercation that ended with the Wolverines’ head coach, Juwan Howard, getting ejected from the game.

The short version: Howard crossed a line, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon rather aggressively called him on it, and fireworks ensued.

The longer version: Well, you’d have to go back a ways for that. Maybe not all the way back to Howard’s playing days as the original Fab Five member, or his lengthy NBA career that followed. But at least as far back as last season — Howard’s first as a head coach at his alma mater — when the new kid on the block didn’t really act like it.

Juwan Howard’s no shrinking violet. As amiable as he is, Michigan’s head coach won’t hesitate to remind you, as he did after Friday’s fiery 79-66 victory, that while he was raised by his late grandmother, he was also “raised by Chicago” and “grew up on the South Side.”

And that’s a place where challenges aren’t taken lightly, nor is it one where perceived slights are easily forgotten.

But the same is true in this game of basketball, and if you want to take a step back from Friday’s fracas, you’ll probably find that it was fueled by disrespect on several levels. From one coach with a chip on his shoulder to another feeling aggrieved, and new-age realities colliding with old-school sensibilities. And, of course, recruiting. In college sports, it’s always about the recruiting, isn’t it?

Anyway, let’s start with something Howard doesn’t like to talk about, even though it’s something he has felt from the day he was hired at Michigan, when critics from all corners were questioning his credentials — and more.

“I’m not going to sit here and act like I didn’t hear the noise before I got hired,” he admitted earlier this winter.

Even now, he says, he hears the “backhand compliments.” The whispers about others deserving credit for his immediate success at Michigan. If it offends him, it also drives him.

“Am I competitive?” Howard says. “Of course I am.”

Going off

Then again, they all are, in this business. Which is how you end up with scenes like this, with coaches jawing and benches emptying and Howard’s former coach — assistant Jay Smith — trying to hold him back as he completely lost his cool midway through the second half of Friday’s game against the Terrapins.

What exactly transpired is hard to say, “because there’s always gonna be so many versions,” Howard said afterward. “My version, his version.”

But frankly, the two coaches’ versions were pretty similar in the end.

Heading into a media timeout with 10:44 left, Howard was yelling down to the referee at the baseline closest to Maryland’s bench, where a rebound off the Terrapins’ missed three-point attempt was ruled to have gone out of bounds off Michigan.

Howard thought it was the wrong call — a TV replay showed he was right, by the way — and was near midcourt arguing his case, straying well past the coaches’ box on the sideline. Which is something he does far too frequently, and something that rubs other Big Ten coaches the wrong way. Heck, last season, Howard even got a technical foul in a game at the Breslin Center for jumping out on the court while the ball was in play.

But in this case, Turgeon, whose team was on the wrong end of a 33-11 run at that point and headed for another double-digit loss to Michigan, decided to take issue with it. Then, after Howard essentially scoffed at Maryland’s coach for doing so, tempers really flared.

“Turg saw that I was out of the box,” Howard said. “He’s telling the referee to look at my feet, I’m out of the box, and I’m like, ‘Come on, man. This is what we’re doing today? You’re worrying about my feet being out of the box?’”

Niyo: Turgeon's beef with Howard boils over into full brouhaha 3


Maryland’s Mark Turgeon on encounter with Juwan Howard: ‘I stood up for my team’

Terrapins coach tells his side of exchange with Wolverines coach that led to Howard being ejected in second half on Friday.

The Detroit News

From Turgeon’s vantage point, though, it wasn’t just “today,” as he indicated in his own postgame comments. And it wasn’t simply that Howard was out of the coaches’ box. Turgeon felt he was out of line.

And that pot has been simmering since at least December, when Michigan went on the road and trounced Maryland on New Year’s Eve, led by freshman center Hunter Dickinson, who dominated with 26 points and 11 rebounds and made sure to let Turgeon and his staff know about it.

Prior to that game, Dickinson, a prep star from nearby DeMatha Catholic, had talked about Maryland not making him a recruiting priority, which, true or not, only cranked up the heat. That Dec. 31 game featured four technical fouls and plenty of stare-downs and trash-talking, in case you’d forgotten. Clearly, Turgeon hasn’t.

“There was friction in the first game, to be honest with you,” Michigan assistant Phil Martelli said in a Big Ten Network postgame interview. “But there was nothing in the second game. I don’t really know. I can’t say who was right or who was wrong (today.)”

Obviously, though, Turgeon was feeling wronged, for whatever reason. And he made sure to preface his own recap of the confrontation by letting everyone know his credentials, which I’m sure was no accident.

“Well, this has been going on for three games,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and I’ve called the conference office, I’ve called the commissioner about what transpired in the first two games. And I said I wasn’t gonna take it in the third game. And so, I stood up for my team, I stood up for me.”

And yet what triggered Howard, I think, was how aggressively — and dismissively —Turgeon did so.

“All I said is, ‘Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk to me,’” Turgeon said, though I’m going to guess he, like Howard, left out the expletives. “I never backed down. I just stood there and said, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ That’s it. The commissioner of the league (and) the league was well aware of what’s transpired the first two games and they’ll handle it from here. But I thought I was as professional as I could try to be in the moment, standing up for myself, 34 years of doing it the right way, and for Maryland basketball. So that’s all I did, just stood up for myself and my program and said ‘Don’t talk to me,’ and then it escalated.’”

Credential check

It sure did. Howard erupted when Turgeon angrily pointed at him and stepped toward him, shouting, which is apparently what do when you’ve been doing this the right way for 34 years. Smith and director of basketball operations Chris Hunter had to step in and push Howard back to keep the embarrassing confrontation from getting any more out of hand, with players from both teams — Maryland’s Darrell Morsell among them — chirping as well.

Afterward, Howard apologized for his actions, first to his team in the locker room and then in a postgame video news conference. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said later Friday the league had reviewed the incident and, fortunately for Michigan’s coach, there would be “no further action.”

“That’s not the way you handle situations like that under adverse moments,” Howard said. “Can’t let your emotions get the best of you. I love how our guys stepped up and supported their coach, because they know I’m always gonna support them. But I’m going to always take ownership when I’m wrong and admit when I’m wrong. That’s not the right way how to handle that situation.”

No, it’s not, and Howard’s obviously still learning how to separate some of the emotions he carried as a player — and an NBA assistant — with the ones that are required as a head coach at the college level.

But I think what we also saw Friday was something Dickinson was talking about earlier this winter.

“Coach Howard preaches, ‘Competitors only,’” the freshman said, “and we have a lot of fight in us.”

Maybe too much for some, it seems.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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