Michigan State strongman Tom Izzo will be coming to town this week as part of the NCAA Tournament East Regionals at the Capital One Arena.
It hasn’t been determined yet if extra D.C. police will be assigned to protect his players from their beloved coach.
The bright shining moment so far in March Madness has been Izzo’s bright red face as he seemed to threaten one of his players, freshman Aaron Henry, in their first-round win Thursday against No. 15 seed Bradley.
Izzo screamed at Henry as he came off the court during a timeout early in the second half. You could have muted the sound on your television and still known that he was screaming at his player. The veins were bulging in his neck, with one of his hands pointing a finger in Henry’s face, while the other was clenched in a fist.
Izzo looked like a 64-year-old man who was about to grab this young player with every intention of giving him a beating to teach him a lesson. Izzo is a teacher, after all; and Henry his pupil, if we are to believe the NCAA’s myth of the student-athlete.
But Henry seemed surprised — and scared — by his unhinged coach. Henry’s teammates did as well, with Cassius Winston grabbing Izzo by the shoulders trying to push him away.
That should have been when Izzo realized he’d gone off the rails — once one of his players had to put his hands on the coach to try to stop him from whatever he was about to do. That should have been the moment when the Michigan State legend composed himself and said, “What am I doing?”
But no. Izzo was in a rage — an out-of-control rage — and he wasn’t done. They got into a huddle and Izzo was still raging, and at one point he got out of his chair and lunged after Henry, who appeared to be trying to at least verbally defend himself.
Again, a teammate, Matt McQuaid, grabbed Izzo and put him back in the chair.
This was not hard-nosed coaching. This was an out-of-control adult threatening a younger adult whose care and safety Izzo is supposedly in charge of. It was an unacceptable public display of anger.
It’s a display that may have been tolerated in another time, but today, it’s an example of the coach as bully. An apology, at least, is expected from someone in a position of authority who behaves this badly in public.
But that’s not Tom Izzo.
The arrogant, empowered coach was defiant afterward. “There were some things Aaron didn’t do a very good job of,” Izzo said. “I did get after him.”
And Izzo didn’t seem to appreciate reporters asking about the incident.
“I get a kick out of you guys (when you) get after somebody because you’re trying to hold them accountable,” Izzo said. “If I was the head of a newspaper and you didn’t do your job, you’d be held accountable. That’s the way it is.”
I tell you what, Tough Tommy — in any other situation, if you came after another person like that, it would be considered a threat, in a newsroom or on the court representing a university.
Izzo is a made man, though, a coaching legend that is beloved not just by many in the coaching fraternity, but in media as well. He gets a pass because he cares about his players, and I’m sure he does. He gets a pass because his players supposedly love him, and I’m sure many do.
“It was just coaching,” Henry told reporters. “And people are blowing it up more than what it is.”
No, that is not coaching. You yell at a player while under control to deliver your message, that is one thing. Izzo was out of control. He lost his temper and was not acting or thinking clearly.
That’s not coaching.
And as much as Izzo is beloved, ask yourself this — if this coaching icon is willing to exhibit that much rage against one of his players in front of thousands in an arena, what do you think happens behind closed doors?
There are behaviors that once passed for normal that are no longer appropriate. We are talking about a young man who is old enough to vote and serve his country. In what workplace or educational or public setting is that kind of rage against another person not only tolerated, but praised?
I’ve heard the word “accountability” thrown around in Izzo’s defense — that he was holding Aaron Henry accountable.
Accountability, though, would have been Izzo apologizing after the game for such an out-of-control display. But he has reached a status in the game and certainly at Michigan State where he has no accountability. To rage like that in public means he fears no one and answers only to himself.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.