ANN ARBOR Mich. — It probably wasn’t the happiest of birthdays for Juwan Howard, as he fielded questions from reporters about his star player’s car crash and suspension.
Thursday’s reports from MLive brought to light information on the incident that led to Xavier Simpson’s suspension last week.
Among the new information: Simpson, while driving a car belonging to the family of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, crashed into a pole in Ann Arbor. He lied to police at the scene, giving a false name and initially claiming he hadn’t been driving the vehicle.
And so Friday, in a press conference previously scheduled to preview Saturday’s home game against Michigan State, Howard discussed the incident.
He couldn’t recall the exact day he was made aware of the crash, which occurred at 3:03 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. It was almost certainly that day, since Simpson and his teammates were made aware of his suspension that night.
“When I heard about the crash, he hit a pole,” Howard said. “I was worried about his safety, his health. Because when you hear things like that, the first thing that goes out is my heart goes to the person who’s involved in it and ‘what is their state?’ And praying to God they didn’t hurt themselves.”
Michigan announced Simpson’s suspension one day after the crash, noting that the senior point guard would miss the following day’s game at Nebraska. Howard told reporters Simpson had violated a team policy — though he declined to reveal specifics — and that he was still evaluating the situation. Simpson did not make the trip to Lincoln with his teammates, who beat Nebraska without him.
The following Friday, Jan. 31, Howard told reporters Simpson’s status was still unclear and that he did not know whether Simpson would make the trip to New York that evening for Saturday’s game against Rutgers.
A few hours later, through a press release, Michigan announced Simpson had been reinstated. He made the trip to New York and played in a win over Rutgers.
On Friday, Howard was willing to share the team rule Simpson broke.
“He violated our curfew,” Howard said. “Being out that time of the evening is not acceptable. We all have those types of rules we have to abide by. That was something I was not happy with at all whatsoever. I felt it was important that no matter who you are, if you’re my best player or 15th player, that there are rules you have to respect.”
Howard suggested he had not yet seen the police report, which MLive obtained Thursday, before reinstating Simpson and that was the reason for the uncertainty last week.
“I wanted to find out what the police report had stated,” Howard said. “Now that it’s out — at the time it didn’t come out quick enough, I was comfortable with the one-game suspension. And I still live by that. I felt that he understood he made a mistake and it’s time to move on from it.”
Howard was asked if he had any additional concern over the fact that the car Simpson was driving belongs to the family of Michigan’s athletic director.
“Actually that’s personal,” he said. “That’s not something I think where it’s important for me to say whose car he should drive. That’s more where Xavier as well as the person whose car he’s driving, that’s a personal matter between those two individuals.”
Asked if he could understand the “optics” of the situation, Howard replied, “What optics are you speaking of?” before noting the car belonged not to the athletic director but his son. That person, Evan Manuel, is also a student manager.
As far as Howard is concerned, the investigation into Simpson’s behavior that night is complete. The two had “really good conversations,” Howard said. Simpson served his suspension and has since returned to action. “Right now we have moved on.”
It’s been a season of firsts for Howard, in his first year as a head coach and first season coaching at the college level. On his 47th birthday, he spoke for what he hopes is the last time on his first player discipline issue.
“Definitely a learning experience for me,” Howard said. “This is my first time as the head coach of a big, prestigious university like this. I never had an experience like this happen before with a player. This is my first time dealing with it. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with it again.”