Tom Izzo’s Rant Was About His Players, Not Michigan State Fans

    Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is one of the most passionate coaches in the country, and he'll defend his players to anyone questioning their effort despite the Spartans' 12-9 record.

    January 25, 2017

    Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is one of the most passionate coaches in the country, and he’ll defend his players to anyone questioning their effort despite the Spartans’ 12-9 record.

    Tom Izzo minces words only to cut out four-letter versions. You probably won’t find a more brutally honest college basketball coach in the nation when it comes to speaking with the media.

    That’s not always a good thing for the Michigan State coach, who has been to seven Final Fours and won a national championship. Izzo isn’t immune to making statements in the heat of the moment.

    Take Tuesday night, for example. Following the Spartans’ 84-73 home loss to No. 20 Purdue, Izzo spent the first portion of his press conference evaluating both the good and bad. Then, a reporter asked him what fans must be thinking of Michigan State’s 12-9 record and 4-4 mark in Big Ten play.

    “I don’t care about the fan base,” Izzo said sternly.

    He waited as the reporter attempted to clarify, then continued.

    “You know the good thing about me? I’ve never BS’ed one of you (in the media) in my whole 22 years. So if I say that (I think the team is getting better), you know that’s the truth. Because if I say they’re not playing good, I say it just like it is. Sometimes it gets me in trouble.”

    It’s a soundbite that encompasses the Hall of Fame coach’s career. He’s never hid his emotions, be it crying when discussing Denzel Valentine following Michigan State’s loss to No. 15-seed Middle Tennessee in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, or snapping a clipboard in half mid-game like he did Tuesday.

    Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo talks with forward Nick Ward. Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    But there’s no emotion more heartfelt than Izzo’s defense of his players. It’s the true fatherly mentality where he can criticize their game – and he does, both in the media and to their faces – but won’t allow outsiders to discuss anything beyond that. Don’t question their effort, don’t question their toughness and don’t question them personally. To Izzo, that’s off limits.

    “It’s not coach speak, it’s not anything else,” Izzo said. “If people want to complain, I don’t care. I really don’t. I know what I’m doing, I know what this team is doing. I know what they’re going through. I know what they’re going through. And nobody (else) knows what they’re going through because they haven’t had to do it.

    “Am I going to worry what somebody says who has no clue – no clue – what this team has gone through and what we’re doing? I’m not going to worry about that.

    “That’s not insulting to our fans. If some are at the local pubs and are complaining, that’s their freedom of speech.”

    And it’s Izzo’s freedom to spill his emotions how he feels necessary. But the fact is – and Izzo will admit this – that he truly does care about the fan base and wants to see it celebrate, not sulk. If anything, Izzo cares too much.

    To some, it might not be clear Izzo meant that he doesn’t care about the fan base in comparison to his players, those young men who listen to his rants and demands and give their all to win for him. He gushed over Miles Bridges, who scored 33 points to set the Michigan State freshman single-game scoring record. He openly acknowledges the long-term injuries to big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter have put players like freshman Nick Ward and former walk-ons Matt Van Dyk and Kenny Goins in difficult positions.

    That doesn’t mean Izzo’s expectations decrease, and he fully realizes the fans are used to winning more often than watching Michigan State teams struggle. It’s more of a compliment to Izzo for what he’s built in East Lansing.

    Although his comments seem disparaging, Izzo only meant to say in a convincing tone that he’s more disappointed in how his players feel and how the fans might view them despite their hard work. No, 12-9 isn’t acceptable at Michigan State, where no Spartans team has missed the NCAA Tournament since Izzo’s second season on the job.

    But he doesn’t want anyone – most of all his players – to give up hope quite yet. After all, just two years ago Izzo took an 11-loss No. 7 seed to the Final Four.

    “I’ve been here before, too. I’ve been here before and got to the Tournament,” Izzo said. “So, do I sit here every day and think, ‘Boy, this is going to cost us getting to the Tournament.’ I don’t do that, I really don’t. I’ve had to win three games in the Big Ten tournament to get there and done it.”

    Izzo gives full credit to his players for winning those games. And that’s why he’ll defend them in every way possible following the losses.

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