John Sanderson, Longtime Michigan Basketball Strength Coach, Leaves School After Reaching Settlement: Sources

John Sanderson, Michigan's longtime basketball strength and conditioning coach and a key figure on the staff of two Final Four teams, has officially parted ways with the university after 15 years with the program.

The university confirmed Sanderson's departure in a statement The athlete“John Sanderson has resigned from his position with the University of Michigan Athletics Department, effective March 1,” he said. “We appreciate John’s contributions over the years and wish him the best for the future.”

Two sources familiar with the agreement said that Sanderson's departure comes after reaching a settlement with the university. These sources said that this agreement includes a non-disclosure clause.

Sanderson's departure comes after a Dec. 7 confrontation with Michigan coach Juwan Howard that led to Sanderson no longer working with the men's basketball program. Sanderson has spent the last 12 weeks working at the South Campus complex for the athletics department primarily with some of the school's Olympic sports teams.

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

A source familiar with the matter said Sanderson made additional complaints about the program's culture under Howard that were unrelated to the Dec. 7 incident.

That confrontation between Howard and Sanderson arose over a disagreement between an athletic trainer and senior guard Jess Howard, Joan's 22-year-old son. At the time, Jace Howard had missed the entire season with a stress fracture and suspected the coaching staff hadn't cleared him to play yet.

On December 8, according to documents he obtained The athleteSanderson shared his account of the events of what followed in an email to Michigan's athletic director and Manuel responded.

Sanderson wrote that Jess Howard “was berating” the coach and caused a “scene” that caused several players to stop and watch. Sanderson described the scene as “completely out of control” and said the coach was trying to calm Jess Howard down and urged him to discuss the matter privately. When Sanderson noticed the coach looking increasingly desperate and “panicked,” Sanderson stepped in and yelled at Howard from about 30 feet away, “You're a student-athlete and he's a professional. You don't talk to a professional like that. That's disrespectful and entitled.” He said he repeated that the sermon was “disrespectful.”

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Sanderson wrote in an email to Manuel that he tried to calm the situation, turned his back and walked away. When Sanderson looked back, he said Juwan Howard came at him, “angry and ready to fight,” and shouted repeatedly as players and staff held him back.

“He kept aggressively pursuing me to fight, with the players and staff doing their best to pin him down. He was out of control, it was an ugly sight. I had no choice but to stand my ground, and I didn't back down. A few others also stood in front of me,” Sanderson wrote. “From players and staff trying to keep us apart.”

The players and staff were eventually able to restrain Howard, after which the team began practice and Sanderson went to his office, Sanderson wrote.

Manuel emailed Sanderson a response one day later on December 10, writing, “I am sorry to hear about the negative interaction between you and Joan,” and stating that Tiffany Raymond, assistant athletic director for human resources at the University of Maryland, would begin a review of the incident the next day ( December 11) “For more details and support.” Manuel also informed Sanderson that he would “talk to Joan directly.”

Among the emails he received The athleteone from Raymond on December 15 states that Sanderson will be given the option of meeting with Howard and HR officials “to openly share past frustrations and concerns in an effort to clear the air and start over” or “move on to support other Olympic teams on a permanent basis.”

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Sanderson told Raymond that he intended to remain in the basketball program and that he chose to participate in a facilitation session. In that email, Sanderson said his boss had asked him to avoid team facilities and that Manuel did not want him to come into contact with student-athletes from the men's basketball team; Sanderson said he wanted to make sure no false statements were made to the media or the public about his absence.

“No one should suggest that this is voluntary,” Sanderson wrote.

On December 15, after a human resources review, the university cleared Howard of any wrongdoing in the Sanderson incident. Manuel said in a statement that the university reviewed “an incident involving multiple individuals during team practice,” and “based on a comprehensive internal review, nothing was found to warrant disciplinary action for anyone involved.”

Howard has never shared his account of the event publicly. “I think it was clear. It was accurate,” he told reporters only to point out Manuel's statement.

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

Mike Favre, Michigan's director of strength and conditioning, has replaced Sanderson on the bench since December.

Sanderson, who played at Ohio State (1997-99) and Ohio State (2000-02), is one of the most recognized strength coaches in college basketball and will likely be heavily pursued by other programs this offseason. His son, 6-foot-2 point guard Jonathan Sanderson, is ranked among the top 50 players in the recruiting class of 2026. Jonathan is currently a sophomore at Saline High School, outside Ann Arbor, and holds scholarship offers from several top programs , including Michigan.

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Howard was placed on a zero-tolerance policy by Michigan following a postgame altercation following a loss to Wisconsin in February 2022. After that game, Howard exchanged words with Wisconsin coach Greg Gard in the postgame handshake line, leading to a skirmish during which he struck Howard. Badgers assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft is in over his head.

Howard, 51, is 87-69 overall and 49-46 in Big Ten play at Michigan, including a Big Ten regular season title and an Elite Eight appearance in 2021. However, this season, Michigan is 8-21 overall and 3 -15 in the Big Ten with two games remaining in the regular season.

Howard missed significant time at the start of this season following heart surgery in September. In November, he returned to the UM bench as an assistant to Phil Martelli, who served as the program's head coach during Howard's recovery.

Howard has a contract that extends until the 2025-2026 season and was last extended in November 2021.

(Photo: Hana Fountain/Camera Sport via Getty Images)

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