By: Will Burchfield
Michigan State’s 2017-18 season, which was clouded in controversy and came to a stunning end on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, would seem to be the kind of ordeal to make Tom Izzo ponder his position as head coach.
If anything, it stoked Izzo’s fire further.
“I never, ever planned on going anywhere from the first rumors. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I got a job to do. I’ve never run from anything in my life — nothing — and I don’t plan on starting now, so I’ll be here. I took too many bullets this year not to be here,” Izzo said. “I’ll be here and we’ll be back knocking on the door to win a championship. I’m going to make damn sure of that.”
Both Izzo’s reputation and that of his basketball program took a big hit this year, stemming from an ESPN report in January that accused the program of systemic sexual assault and violence against women and suggested Izzo ignored such allegations in the name of winning. The report was tied in with the Larry Nassar case to portray a university in criss.
The 63-year-old Izzo, who’s coached at Michigan State since 1983, is bullish on restoring the university’s good image.
“Nobody has any idea what it’s been like, and I’m going to find a way to help motivate and deal with and make better this university that I’ve given over half my life to, that I love and appreciate,” Izzo said. “Understand that everything’s not perfect anywhere — not in your house, not in my house, not in your job and not in my job — and all I can do is try my hardest to make it better.
“But if somebody would give me a chance to bring Michigan State back, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I think it’s been punched and kicked. Some of it was from mistakes (and) rightfully so, and some of it was not rightfully so. But I’m going to sit down with some people and I’m going to be hopefully part of the solution, not part of the problem. And hopefully they’ll be a lot of people, even standing here, that will eat their words.”
Izzo now and then glared at an ESPN reporter when discussing this topic. Asked by that reporter what it means to bring back the university, Izzo said, “It means bringing it back to the respect that it has earned and deserved over the years, and not (letting) something define us that happened. Things happen that are not right in a lot of places, but I’m going to make sure that I bring it back, that it has as much as honor and prestige that this university can have, because I think it’s what this university has deserved.”
With dreams and expectations of winning the national championship, third-seeded Michigan State fell to 11th-seeded Syracuse on Sunday amid a woeful shooting performance. The Spartans went a stunning 17-66 from the field, including 8-37 from three-point range. Their 53 points marked a season low.
Izzo expects criticism, but won’t be rattled by it.
“Theres some things I’m sure I could do a better job of, but…we won 30 games. It’s hard for me to — I mean, listen. You ain’t breaking me and neither are our fans, because I’ve been through enough where I didn’t break this year, and I ain’t gonna break,” Izzo said.
He added, “I’ll give every Spartan alum, if they can find someone that works harder, I’ll come and be a reporter. I’ll be one of you guys. But as I told my team, you not only have to play hard, you have to play well. I not only have to work hard, I have to work well. I’m comfortable in my own skin, but if you think after this year I ever feel good anything, I don’t and won’t. But I’ll use it to drive me. Everybody needs a chip on their shoulder, and I’m going to use these things to motivate.”
Izzo’s contact runs through 2024. His $3.5 million yearly salary is the fifth-highest in college basketball, according to USA Today.
“Let me tell you something, guys. I get paid a lot of money to take a lot of crap. Sometimes it’s good stuff and sometimes it’s real stuff and sometimes it’s factual stuff and sometimes it’s not factual stuff. But that’s the job I have and everybody, every single person, from the people I love to the people I don’t like at all, have the right to ask (questions),” Izzo said.