ANNE ARBOR, MI – In a corridor in the bowels of the Chrysler Center, a nervous Michigan athletics employee Phil Martelli walked into the press conference. I offered help more than once: Do you need me? can i do anything?
Martelli, his shoulders relaxed and his demeanor confident, assured her that he was fine. And with that, he purposefully walked into the room and toward the platform.
“I know what I’m doing. I’ve done this before,” he said on Tuesday.
The 67-year-old Martelli, who spent nearly four decades in senior college basketball, will fill his place with Michigan coach Joan Howard for the remainder of the regular season. Howard was suspended five games and fined $40,000 by the Big Ten Conference after hitting a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head during the handshake streak after Sunday’s loss.
Martelli aims to boost the Wolverines’ chances of a NCAA Championship bid after the team began the season with high expectations for March. His first game will be Wednesday night when Michigan hosts Rutgers (14-11, 8-7).
Now in his third season as an associate coach at Michigan, 24 years after mentoring St. Joseph and 10 others there as an assistant, Martelli is no stranger to leading a team through the pressures of late season. He emphasized that his approach would be to continue the path established by Howard.
What we have is the way we are going to play,” Martelli said. “I don’t have an offensive mind [Howard] she has. I don’t have that in my DNA.”
Martelli said assistant coach Howard Easley would act as offensive coordinator in Howard’s absence. Easley will call up sets from the “really powerful and massive” playbook he and Howard put together.
Martelli made it clear: Michigan will continue to share post-game handshake lines.
“Don’t get rid of them, it’s about more than basketball, it’s about teaching young people lessons,” he said.
Howard, the former Michigan star and NBA All-Star who is the Associated Press’s men’s coach of the year, became upset after Wisconsin coach Greg Jard called for a 15-second timeout and led his team by 15 seconds.
The confrontation began when he grabbed Jared by the arm trying to explain why the timeout was called. Howard yelled and put his right finger in Jared’s face as the two started arguing.
After the coaches separated, Howard swing his right hand and hit Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabenhoft on the left side of his head with an open hand. Soon, players from both sides engaged and a fist-packed fight erupted.
Howard apologized in a statement on Monday. Michigan’s Moussa Diabatti, Terrence Williams II and Jahkobi Neith of Wisconsin are all suspended for one game each.
Diabatti is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, second best for the Wolverines, and 9.3 points. Williams is a reserve striker playing 15.4 minutes per game. The Wolverines will be looking to bench players such as Jace Howard and Brandon Johns Jr. To replace this production.
“Brandon Jones is not a muse,” Martelli said. “You can’t make a game plan and say, ‘Moses averages 8.1; How will we get 8.1? “It’s not going to work… We need the best Brandon Jones to beat Rutgers, and that will be good enough.”
Martelli was the Associated Press’s 2004 Men’s Coach of the Year after leading St. Joseph’s team with one win from the fourth final. He was 444-328 coach for the Hawks, including seven games in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks’ 2004 season had players who would graduate to the NBA, including Jamir Nelson and Delonte West.
Martelli will coach the Wolverines in home games against Rutgers, the 15th-ranked Illinois on Sunday, Michigan State next Tuesday, No. 25 in Iowa on March 3, and the No. 22 in Ohio State on March 6.
Howard is expected to return for the Big Ten, which begins March 9 in Indianapolis.
“I’m not Joan Howard, and I’ll be me,” said Martelli. “The little thing about me is that I’ve never sat down during a match. So there would be a chair in there, but it would be for him. It wouldn’t be for me.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.