For more than a month, the strange clusterfuss in which the UW-Milwaukee athletic department now finds itself – specifically in regard to the men’s basketball program – has been a seething, simmering pot of hot water, roiling with rumors and resentments and threatening to boil over in full-scale controversy at any moment.
On Thursday night, after a scalding retirement post on Instagram from longtime Panthers radio announcer Bill Johnson, it did just that.
Suddenly, what had been an intriguingly provocative and ongoing local sports story – athletic director Amanda Braun keeping the team out of the postseason, firing coach Rob Jeter and his staff, reportedly offering the job to an Iowa State assistant but being overruled by chancellor Mark Mone, and instead hiring LaVall Jordan as some players requested their releases from the program – became a viral sensation with national buzz, thanks to Johnson’s scathing excoriation.
In his remarks, Johnson, who had been UW-Milwaukee’s play-by-play man for 16 years, said the school’s administrators were "a talentless group of entitled beaurocrats [sic]" and called Braun a "deplorable human being."
Here’s the full post:
To quote Groucho Marx "Hello, I must be going!" Before the decision is made for me, I am officially announcing my retirement as the voice of Milwaukee Panthers Men’s basketball. I would say it’s taking the last life boat off the Titanic, but that would be unfair to the crew of the Titanic.
Never have so many competant [sic], talented people been run off by such a talentless group of entitled beaurocrats [sic]. No matter how much the coaches, players, and support staff care, they can’t overcome incompetent administrators.
UWM leads the world in incompetent administrators.
I criticize awful athletic directors like Koonce, Costello, Geiger, and Braun. It’s not their fault. Hell, if they elected me President I’ld take the job. If I suck at it, it’s not my fault. I’m not qualified to be President.
Should Amanda Braun turn down an AD job just because she’s horribly under qualified? Hell no. She’s a bad AD, and a deplorable human being, but those are the cards she’s been dealt.
Those in charge of the UW System have failed to hire effective administrators. Failed. F F F F!
It has been my pleasure to work with the wonderful players and coaches for 17 seasons. The players, coaches, parents and the fans have been like my family.
I will miss Panther hoops the rest of my life. Best of luck to my friends that are still imprisoned at UWM Athletics. Fight on, brothers (and sisters.) Keep your heads low and make us proud.
Finally, best of luck to LaVall Jordan, his staff, and the players. As so often happens in the NCAA, it’s not your fault. Win and get out quick, because long term is fatal at UWM Athletics.
Panther Nation, it has been my pleasure. Cheers!
On Friday, OnMilwaukee contacted Johnson and asked him to elaborate on his comments. While producing a radio show in Beaver Dam, Johnson discussed his resignation and his relationship with Braun, provided insight into the school’s athletic department and offered his opinion on its recent turbulence and the underlying problems at UWM.
When asked for a response from Braun, the UW-Milwaukee athletic department provided this statement: "In the social media posting announcing his decision not to pursue his position next season, Bill Johnson – the longtime voice of the Milwaukee men's basketball team – was highly critical of the UWM administration and Athletic Department. We believe his comments are unwarranted and unfair and are likely motivated by his own suspension from his position in February for making racially insensitive remarks during the broadcast of a Panther game. Johnson was allowed to return to his duties after apologizing to a player and the coach of an opposing team."
This is the transcript of the conversation between Johnson and OnMilwaukee.
OnMilwaukee: So, um, what is going on?
Bill Johnson: (laughs) You know, I loved working for UW-Milwaukee. I did it for 17 years. I really regret having to give it up, but it’s nothing like it once was – it’s not even close. And I got tired of seeing good people just sit silently by. Stuff was out there that just wasn’t accurate. I just felt like somebody had to step up and say something.
You said in your post you were making the decision to retire before it was made for you. What led to that decision and did you feel like you were on the chopping block?
It was kind of a combination of things, really. I had a feeling that I was not going to be asked back next year. I was suspended by Amanda Braun for one game this past season. I just had a feeling that with that, and with my connection to the outgoing coaching staff, that I was not going to be asked back to do the games.
Why were you suspended?
I was suspended for comments I made during the Youngstown State game. This doesn’t really have anything to do with my decision to leave, but I just had a problem with the process. There was no hearing or anything like that. I was just informed that I was suspended and I didn’t have any recourse whatsoever in regard to that suspension. It was just handled poorly, I thought. I had never been disciplined before in 17 years.
UWM has had five athletic directors (including interim ADs) in the last six years. Why has there been so much turnover and has that contributed to the turmoil in the department now?
It all started when George Koonce was the athletic director (2009-2010). It was a very popular hire when it was made; he had been an up-and-comer at Marquette. I know that Rob Jeter was even very active in getting George hired. But the first thing that George wanted to do after he got hired was fire Rob, and that was really what started things more than anything.
It was this whole attitude that they didn’t want to be a steppingstone school. So in order for them not to be a steppingstone school, they signed Rob Jeter to a long-term contract. Well, as soon as they signed Rob Jeter to a long-term contract, they wanted to fire him because they were paying him too much. I mean, that was unfortunately the main focus of at least three of the athletic directors they’ve had since then.
I honestly don’t know what Andy Geiger’s focus was. The famous Andy Geiger (interim, 2012-13) move was canceling the deal with U.S. Cellular Arena, which is now UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. He canceled that deal and signed up for the Panthers to play their whole season at the Klotsche Center before he even saw the Klotsche Center. Other than that, the main focus of these athletic directors has been to fire Rob.
I don’t know if it’s just a matter of they get in and they discover that, after being assistant athletic directors or whatever their positions were leading up to it, they get into this job and they find out they can’t raise funds. So to make ends meet they have to cut costs, and they went after Rob. I felt bad for him. He had good seasons and he had bad seasons and he had average seasons, but he constantly had to fight that battle for the last eight years that he was at Milwaukee. He constantly had to fight that battle – that whole notion that he really didn’t have support from the athletic director, that the athletic director either wanted him to quit or wanted to get rid of him.
For me that was the overarching theme in the athletic department, basically from the time Bud Haidet left (in 2009) until today. And there are obviously other issues in that athletic department, and there are probably people that were on the ground that would know better than I about those situations. But that was the biggest issue that they had, and to me it seemed that the biggest job of any athletic director since Bud Haidet was to get rid of Rob Jeter’s contract.
Do you think there was some sort of mandate from above the athletic department to do that?
I’ve heard that. I almost think they spent more time with an interim chancellor than they did with a chancellor. In the transition that they had from Carlos Santiago (2004-2010) to Michael Lovell (2011-14) and from Lovell to the guy that’s in there now (Mark Mone), it seems like they’ve had a lot of interim guys in there. I’ve heard that before, that the chancellor, whoever the chancellor was, was actually the driving force in wanting to get rid of that (Jeter) contract. But again, there are people on the ground there that have more of a grasp on that than I do.
There seem to sometimes be dichotomous perspectives of the program's support from the athletic department compared to the team and its fans. On one side, Braun has talked often about Panthers basketball being well-funded, especially compared to other schools in the Horizon League. But on the other side, people point to the fact that men’s basketball doesn’t have its own practice facility and shares the Klotsche Center with other UWM teams, plus intramural and club sports, as evidence that it's not well supported. Do you hear those conflicting messages? Seeing the Panthers’ peer schools in the Horizon League, how would you characterize funding and support for men’s basketball?
Well they do as good of a job with the money they get from the state as they can, and everybody knows that the state has dried up to a certain degree. (UWM is) cutting huge, as far as the money that’s supplied by the state. That’s why individual boosters are so important to the program. And Amanda Braun has alienated the four major boosters to this program. I still think if it had been any other athletic director that had alienated David Nicholas (chairman and CEO of Nicholas Company) the way that she alienated David Nicholas, that athletic director would have been fired.
David was the last one to go and he was the biggest one to go. But she alienated David Gruber, she alienated Andrew Chevrolet, to a degree she alienated Harris Turer. They’re on a shoestring budget as far as the money they get from the state, I get that. But in that position, you can’t afford when you’re UW-Milwaukee and you don’t have a ton of big boosters in the first place, you can’t afford to alienate the boosters that you do have. And she’s done that, and she’s done it from the beginning.
In your post, you called Amanda Braun a "deplorable human being." Can you explain where that sentiment came from?
OK, I have to say this, too. I was sick last year for a while, and she was very nice to me and very concerned, and I think for the most part my relationship with her was fine. I just saw the way that she dealt with other people and, specifically, the way she dealt with Coach Jeter. And the deplorable human being thing came in when I heard yesterday that she was releasing an 11-year review of Rob Jeter’s coaching tenure. And, to me, that’s kicking someone when they’re down. That’s unnecessary. And, to me, kicking someone when they’re down, that’s deplorable. So that’s where I came up with that.
What are the biggest problems the men’s basketball team and the athletic department have with each other and, at this point, do you think they can be resolved?
Well, the basketball team, the biggest problem they have is their players don’t trust the athletic department anymore, and they’re never going to get that back, even if they do get a couple of these guys to come back and play. It’s not going to be the same.
The biggest problem the athletic department has is, and I said it during the post, I think they’ve failed in hiring administrators. And that goes back to the UW system. They’ve failed. When they had the opportunity to hire Paul Plinske from UW-Whitewater, he had the chance to be the Bo Ryan of athletic directors. He had had a tremendous amount of success at Whitewater and he had the chance to go up to the Division 1 level and be successful there, and instead they hired Amanda Braun, who had never done anything. It exemplifies the problems that they’ve had in hiring and the problems they’ve had, not just with the athletic department, but with the spot at the top, as well.
There was a report this week that Braun and the UW-Milwaukee search committee wanted to hire – and had even apparently extended an offer to – Iowa State assistant T.J. Otzelberger (hired Thursday as the South Dakota State coach), but they were overruled by Mone. Now LaVall Jordan is the head coach. Do you have any insight into that process or what went down?
As far as anything that’s really happened since the Jeter staff got fired, I really don’t have any insight into that anymore. I still have some friends there, but basically when that staff got jettisoned, I started talking to them about what they were going to do more than anything going on inside the program.
This is just an opinion based on experience, but it doesn’t surprise me. If that story went exactly the way that it was said – I don’t know whether it did or not – but if somebody said, ‘yeah that’s exactly the way it went,’ that wouldn’t shock me at all. Because that’s the way that decisions have been made there for a long time.
I think back to when Nancy Zimpher was the chancellor and Bud Haidet was the athletic director, and that was Shangri-La as far as UW-Milwaukee athletics, because you had a chancellor that knew the importance of athletics and you had an athletic director that gave his coaches and administrators what they needed in order to get better. They haven’t had that combination ever since.
Do you think other UW-Milwaukee athletic programs have been negatively affected by the current athletic department and/or administration?
Yeah, I think some already have. Basketball’s just the highest-profile sport, but, I mean, they’ve had problems over the years with people in the tennis program, their women’s soccer program was very successful and they got run out during the Rick Costello era. They’ve had problems with just about all of the sports in that athletic department, and if you were able to go on the record with the people that show up and work in that building every day, they’d have some amazing stories to tell you.
You said earlier that, at least a decade ago, UW-Milwaukee didn’t want its men’s basketball head coaching position to be viewed as a steppingstone to another, bigger job. Do you think it’s a steppingstone and, if so, can it be more than that?
In hindsight, as much as Rob is my friend and I’m glad I got to work with him for 11 years, they should’ve looked themselves in the face at that point and said, "We are a steppingstone." And with the benefit of hindsight, I think they would, just based on the fact that the decision-makers, the people in charge in the UW System and the people that they put in charge at UW-Milwaukee, they don’t necessarily want to be anything more than a steppingstone. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it’s their reality. That’s just what it is.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.