Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Inside the Izzo press conference

TOSSS sent special correspondent James Hensley to Tom Izzo's press conference to get a sense of the scene at arguably the biggest press conference in MSU history. Here is his report.

The scene at the press conference was more chaotic than the normally well organized events put on by the MSU Athletic Department. There were TV vans parked along the curb of Shaw Lane blocking traffic and at times pedestrian walkways and many camera guys running with cables - the last minute announcement caught them off guard.

In the back of the Clara Bell Smith Auditorium, off camera, over a 100 students (many of them Izzone members) and student athletes gathered to show support for their coach and team.

There are several ways to look at the last nine days that lead to the culmination with the press conference, for Tom Izzo and the MSU basketball team. The rest of the media has done great job speculating about if Izzo took too long in his decision, looking at the impact this decision will have on his recruiting and looking at the LeBron factor.

At the end of the day, Coach Izzo said that the process of consideration took longer because his kids were in finals and he was not going to make a family decision without their input and he waited until the end of finals to consult them.

At this point, how the decision was reached is inconsequential. The announcement by Izzo at this press conference was the end to flirtation with NBA coaching. Coach Izzo proclaimed the end the job process with Cleveland by stating “I’m a lifer.” Whatever thought process that he went through to arrive at that moment are part of the past.

Spotlight on the Athletic Department

The most important thing announced, besides that Izzo will stay at MSU, was that both AD Mark Hollis and Izzo signaled that, in Hollis' words, it's “time to move forward…to make the athletic department the best, not just the best we can be, the best."

Izzo followed up on Hollis rallying call by stating his admiration for football coach Mark Dantonio and reiterating that the goal now is to make the MSU Athletic Department one of the best in the country.

The repeated use and focus on the success of the Athletic Department, not just the basketball program, led me to wonder if there were some larger-picture discussions during this process. Will Coach Izzo play a more active advisory role in other sports than his own? Was there an Ron Mason-style informal nod that Izzo could become the AD if he were to ever retire from MSU basketball? Lastly, what were the common strategies that Hollis and Izzo have discussed that will propel MSU to be a leader in collegiate sports?

To me, those questions are much more important than questions lobbed at Tom Izzo during the press conference. Many of them (and most of those from a single Detroit News columnist) involved why Tom shut out the media during this process and claims that his silence lead to the numerous erroneous reports. Others centered on the role of LeBron James, whether he'd stay or not, which doesn't really affect MSU any more now that Izzo turned down the job in Cleveland.

A moment that brought a hush over the crowd was when most of the basketball team (Chris Allen the notable exception), without prompting, joined their coach on stage before he started his speech. Each player hugged or shook his hand before taking a stance behind Izzo on stage. It was a clear act of devotion, support and honor for their coach and a sign that maybe nobody is happier than them that his decision was to call MSU “home”.

When asked if there was an “Ah Ha” moment to solidify his decision to say, Izzo said that one thing that meant a lot to him was when he talked to his daughter. When asked why his daughter wanted to stay her. She replied that if she made new friends in Cleveland they would only be her friends because of who her dad was and the friends that she had made here they had made together while building the program.

Several people teared up at that response.

Lastly, Coach Izzo acknowledged the fans, stating “I appreciate all the support…emails, letters…it was embarrassing, but deeply appreciated.

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