Michigan coach Juwan Howard explains what set him off in exchange with Mark Turgeon

Orion Sang
Detroit Free Press

What led to Juwan Howard's surprising sideline confrontation with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon during Michigan basketball's win over Maryland on Friday afternoon? 

According to the Wolverines' head coach, it all began with an out-of-bounds call. 

After the Wolverines' 79-66 win, Howard — who was ejected with double technical fouls at the 10:44 mark of the second half because of the sideline incident — explained:

Michigan Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard is held back by his team and ejected against the Maryland Terrapins in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals Friday, March 12, 2021 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"I noticed that (Galin) Smith went for an offensive rebound and it went off his hands last but the referees called the ball out of bounds and I think it was their possession. I’m like, 'No, that’s not how I saw it.' So I was out of the coaching box and I went down to explain exactly, no, it’s off of Smith, I mean, it’s tough to communicate when it’s loud and also you have a mask on.

"(Mark) Turgeon saw that I was out of the box, he tells the referee to look at my feet, I’m out of the box, I’m like, come on man, this is what we’re doing today? You’re worried about my feet being out of the box? So he said to me, ‘ Juwan, I’m not gonna let you talk to me. You don’t talk to me ever again.’ And he charged at me."

As words were exchanged, Howard had to be held back by Jay Smith, Michigan's director of player personnel and development (and a former assistant coach during Howard's playing career at Michigan), and Chris Hunter, the director of basketball operations. 

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"I don’t know how you guys were raised but how I was raised by my grandmother and also by Chicago. I was raised by Chicago, I grew up on the South Side, when guys charge you, it’s time to defend yourself," Howard continued. "And especially when a grown man charges you. That right there, I went into defense mode forgetting exactly where I’m at. That’s not the right way to handle the situation when you come and charge someone. I didn’t charge him. So when he charged me, I reacted.

"And I reacted out of defense. So that’s it. Words were exchanged. And then I got tossed. So that’s the story. Like I said, you’re gonna hear his side, you’re gonna hear my side and you guys can write the narrative.”

In Turgeon's postgame comments, he confirmed that he did say, "Don't talk to me," to Howard during the confrontation while also providing context for the tensions between the two teams, who played twice earlier this season. 

"This has been going on for three games," Turgeon told reporters after the game. "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 the third game. So I stood up for my team, I stood up for me. And there's a rumor out there I said something about the banner. All I said is don't talk to me. Don't talk to me. Nothing about a banner. Never backed down. I just stood there and said, 'Don't talk to me.' That's it.

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"So commissioner of the league, 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 that escalated."

When asked if he had heard of Turgeon's calls to the league office, Howard said, "No, I have not." He had the same response when asked if he noticed any tensions between the teams during the first two contests. And he made clear to publicly apologize to his players for what happened.

"At the end of the day, I want to first apologize to my team, which I did in the locker room for my actions," Howard said. "That’s not the way how you handle situations like that in adverse moments, can’t let your emotions get the best of you. I love how our guys stepped up and supported their coach. Because they know that I’ll always support them. But I’m always going to take ownership when I’m wrong and admit when I’m wrong. So that’s not the right way how to handle that situation."

Howard was replaced by assistant coach Phil Martelli, a longtime head coach at Saint Joseph's. The Wolverines led by 10 at the time of Howard's ejection and held off two separate Maryland runs, eventually closing out the game with a 11-2 run between the 5:40 mark and the 2:08 mark. 

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.