Illinois hires ex-Michigan strength coach in consulting role after Juwan Howard confrontation

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Jon Sanderson — a former Michigan basketball strength coach — has moved to another Big Ten program, assisting the Illinois men’s basketball team as a sports performance consultant, the Fighting Illini announced Thursday. The move comes less than two weeks after Sanderson officially parted ways with Michigan after 15 years following a Dec. 7 confrontation with Michigan head coach Juwan Howard.

The confrontation resulted in Sanderson no longer working with the Michigan men’s basketball program, but Sanderson spent the 12 weeks before his official departure working out of the athletic department’s south campus complex, primarily with some of the school’s Olympic sports teams.

His exit also came after reaching a settlement with Michigan, two sources briefed on the agreement said at the time. That agreement included a non-disclosure clause, the sources said.

The confrontation between Howard and Sanderson stemmed from a disagreement between an athletic trainer and senior guard Jace Howard, Juwan’s 22-year-old son. At the time, Jace Howard had missed the entire season with a stress fracture and questioned the training staff not yet clearing him to play.

On Dec. 8, according to documents obtained by The Athletic, Sanderson shared his version of events of what followed in an email to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel.

Sanderson wrote that Jace Howard “was berating” the trainer and caused a “scene” that prompted several players to stop and watch. Sanderson described the scene as “totally out of control,” and said the trainer was trying to calm Jace Howard down and get him to discuss the matter privately. Noticing the trainer looking increasingly desperate and “panicked,” Sanderson intervened, yelling at Howard from roughly 30 feet away: “You’re a student athlete and he is a professional. You don’t talk to a professional like that. That is disrespectful and entitled.” He said he repeated that the tirade was “disrespectful.”

Sanderson wrote in the email to Manuel that he tried to de-escalate the situation, turning his back and walking away. When Sanderson looked back, he said Juwan Howard came at him, “angry and ready to fight,” repeatedly yelling as players and staff held him back.

Sanderson wrote that players and staff were ultimately able to restrain Howard, after which the team started practice and Sanderson went to his office.

On Dec. 15, following an HR review, the university cleared Howard of any wrongdoing in the Sanderson incident. In a statement, Manuel said the university reviewed “an incident involving several individuals during a team practice,” and, “based on a thorough internal review, nothing was found to warrant disciplinary action for anyone involved.”

Howard has never publicly shared his account of the event. He told reporters only to refer to Manuel’s statement, saying “I think it was clear. It was precise.”

Sanderson also levied additional complaints about the program’s culture under Howard unrelated to the Dec. 7 incident, a source briefed on the matter said.

Sanderson’s attorney deferred all questions to the university. A text message to Sanderson was not immediately returned.

Sanderson arrived at Michigan in 2009, joining John Beilein’s staff as strength and conditioning coach. He became a program mainstay, working with 17 NBA Draft picks, including 11 first-rounders. He was one of a few holdovers from Beilein’s staff when Howard was hired in 2019.

Mike Favre, Michigan’s strength and conditioning director, replaced Sanderson on the bench in December.

Illinois announced Sanderson’s new role on social media, writing, “Excited to have Jon Sanderson assisting our program as a sports performance consultant. We will utilize Jon’s industry expertise — which includes three Final Fours and developing 30 NBA players during his career — through conversations and meetings with our current staff to create a first in class performance development program.”

Michigan (8-24) fell to Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday. Illinois (23-8) faces Ohio State (20-12) on Friday in a quarterfinal matchup in the conference tournament.

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(Photo: Hannah Fountain / CameraSport via Getty Images)

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