Finley: MSU should throttle Izzo

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo makes a point during Thursday's win over Bradley.

An enraged coach storming the court with teeth and fists clenched to confront a young player is not a good look for a university already under fire for allowing the abuse of its student athletes.

Tom Izzo's legendary temper tantrums may have been amusing at one time. But that time is gone. The Larry Nassar scandal and rising backlash against bullying make what Izzo did during Thursday's NCAA tournament game feel more uncomfortable and more risky.

Izzo loyalists, who include much of the press, dismiss the raging bull episode as part of the Michigan State University coach's schtick — the way he motivates his players, the way he teaches them to win.

"That's just Izzo," they say. "That's the way he's always been." 

But there's no grandfather clause for abusive conduct. Just because he's got away with it for decades, doesn't mean it won't bite MSU in the butt today.

The world has changed. There's nothing funny about watching someone in a position of authority berate, intimidate and humiliate one of his charges.

Izzo's outburst during the win against Bradley went beyond a coach dressing down a player. That happens with nearly every coach, in every game, at least at the collegiate level. In the pros, where players are more empowered, there's more restraint. 

Izzo approached freshman Aaron Henry, who'd been slacking on defense, as if he intended to physically attack him. Later, in a sideline huddle, the coach lunged out of his chair at Henry, who was trying to plead his case..

In both instances, other players got between the coach and Henry, moving Izzo back.

It appeared on television as if Izzo was just an impulse away from a career-ending Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes moment. He seemed unhinged.

Maybe he was actually under control, as his devotees insist, and it was all part of a carefully considered act. I've not covered Izzo, and don't know him.

But still, MSU should be worried that Izzo, like Knight, who famously threw a chair, and Hayes, who punched an opposing player, will cross the line during one of his red-faced rages and do something to further sully the university's reputation.

While they may be playing on a big-time stage, these players are still basically kids. Henry is a teen-ager. The freshman shrugged off the incident after the game, saying he faces worse during practices.

If that's true, Izzo and his program need a lot more oversight from a university administration that will pay the price if he snaps.

But don't hold your breath. The culture at MSU hasn't changed so much that either the administration or the board are willing to meddle with a coach their fan base has so deified.

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