Michigan State's head coach Tom Izzo made headlines during the team’s first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament against 15-seed Bradley University. The surprising part of this situation is why Izzo was subject to criticism.
Izzo, who has coached at Michigan State since 1995, drew some complaints for his coaching methods. Rather than the underwhelming performance from the Spartans, Izzo’s treatment of freshman forward Aaron Henry was the biggest complaint from fans after the game.
The situation Thursday night brings up a good discussion: When do a coach’s fiery antics go too far, and when is a coach verbally abusing their players?
The overwhelming majority of athletes and commentators agree that there is nothing wrong with Izzo’s methods. The way I see it, the discussion is one for the universities and players, and it is not the role of a fan to police the methods coaches use.
Michigan State, a two-seed in the tournament, went into halftime down a single point in what was expected to be a blowout. Bradley, the Missouri Valley Conference Champions and an incoming 18-point underdog, went back and forth with the Big Ten powerhouse deep into the second half.
The Spartans faced quite a scare, but Izzo’s antics on the sidelines drew much of the attention away from what turned out to be a just 11-point victory for MSU.
In the opening minutes of the second half, the Spartans jumped out to a five-point lead at the end of a 10-0 run before the first lapse in play.
On his way back to the bench, Henry got an earful from the Hall of Fame coach, who later explained that Henry’s hustle was the reason for the heated discussion.
Once the timeout was called, Izzo met Henry near the half-court line and got after him concerning a defensive lapse by the freshman. The two went back and forth on the way to the bench, and Izzo even lunged at Henry in the huddle.
Henry would end up with eight points on 3-for-7 shooting in the game, while accounting for five of the team’s nine turnovers in his 29 minutes of play.
Izzo’s treatment of Henry was one of the biggest talking points of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Twitter quickly blew up over Izzo’s volatile treatment of the freshman, calling his coaching style “unacceptable” and the more extreme comments calling for Izzo to resign.
However, Henry said in his postgame interview that he had no problem with his coach’s actions.
“Everybody has their methods,” said Henry. “I know what I signed up for. My family does. I’m all for it.”
Along with Henry, many of Izzo’s former players came to the support of their former coach, including now-NBA player Miles Bridges. Bridges, who plays for the Charlotte Hornets, responded to a tweet that was critical of Izzo’s methods with the simple rebuttal, “stop being soft.”
This storyline blew up so much that even SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt weighed in on his latest installment of his "1 Big Thing" segment of the broadcast.
Van Pelt pleaded during the segment for fans to lighten up on Izzo, telling them to “stop being concerned with things that don’t concern you," and said that if Izzo’s players aren’t offended then the fans shouldn’t be either.
Fans should stick to what they’re best at: cheering on their favorite team and leaving the coaching to the people who are hired to do it.
The actions of Izzo do not warrant the amount of backlash he got, and the fact that this is even an issue is a joke.
Can a coach win games without yelling at his or her players? Absolutely. But is there anything wrong with a coach getting in the face of a young man or woman who he or she believes is not playing the way they are capable of? Absolutely not.
As a fan, you don’t have to like the way Izzo and many others like him coach, but you can’t argue with winning and that is something he has proven time and time again that he is capable of. Seven Final Four appearances and nine Big Ten regular season titles speak for themselves.
There’s no question that his actions are a bit jarring, but the way I see it, Henry is a better player because of the way Izzo challenged him Thursday night.
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