Monday afternoon, Michigan ran a practice in purgatory. Less than 24 hours earlier, Juwan Howard starred as the infamous main character in a benches-clearing fiasco, smacking a Wisconsin assistant coach in the ill-fated altercation.
Howard’s actions ignited a media firestorm replete with furious opinions: some called for Howard’s firing, others for an indefinite suspension.
Amidst all of this, the Wolverines tried to practice, hunkering down for a crucial matchup Wednesday against Rutgers. With five games remaining on its regular-season schedule — and still scrambling to compile a resumé worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid come Selection Sunday — Michigan faced a daunting unknown: Would its head coach be around to guide the program through it?
Phil Martelli orchestrated practice Monday and, at 3:15, athletic director Warde Manuel addressed the team. He offered what Martelli dubbed a “masterclass in leadership” and, of similar importance, provided an end to the swirling uncertainty, offering the facts: Michigan, working alongside the Big Ten, had suspended Howard for the rest of the regular season.
Enter Martelli, who won 444 career games during an illustrious head coaching career at Saint Joseph’s. He’ll be the head honcho for the Wolverines’ crucial stretch run, elevated to the acting head coach in Howard’s soon-to-be conspicuous absence.
Tuesday afternoon, Martelli sat inside the Crisler Center media room and spoke with a sense of determination, his answers a little less long-winded than usual. He wasted no time getting to the point of his press conference:
“I am not Juwan Howard, and I am going to be me,” Martelli offered, his voice stern. “And I told the players that yesterday. I’m not replacing Juwan Howard, but what we have in place is the way that we’re going to play.”