'Don't feel bad for me': Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo tests positive for COVID

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Tom Izzo has no idea when and where COVID-19 caught up to him.

As the Michigan State coach explained on Monday afternoon, hours after his initial positive antigen test was confirmed by a positive PCP result, he’s been “beating my brains out” trying to nail down the particulars.

Tom Izzo

Of course, with the college basketball season likely to tip off in a little more than two weeks, those details hardly matter at this point. Michigan State must forge ahead with Izzo, 65, stuck back at home, likely to spend most of his time in his office in front of a computer screen. Associate head coach Dwayne Stephens takes over, and he’ll have plenty of help from longtime assistants Dane Fife and Mike Garland.

Izzo, meanwhile, shifts his routine as he counts on the experience of his staff and the leadership of captains Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry and Foster Loyer.

More: Michigan State's Aaron Henry makes Preseason All-Big Ten team

“The next week or so I’m gonna do what I always do it at school,” Izzo said. “I'm gonna watch a lot of film right here on my TV. I'm going to try to stream our practices in here. I'm going to be talking to my assistants, and it was funny because like you always do with your staff, last week got into a little argument about something and I said, ‘Wait 'til you guys become head coach.’ So I walked in today and I looked at DJ and said, ‘Hey, see if you can handle these guys. Good luck.’

“I do think, all kidding aside, that my team is in great hands. I think it'll be good for DJ to get a feel for what it's like … I think it’ll be good for Aaron and Josh and Frosty to be captains now. And I've always said a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team.”

Following CDC and Big Ten guidelines, Izzo can return to in-person work with the team on Nov. 17, which would be the end of a 10-day isolation period following the onset of symptoms, which Izzo first had on Nov. 7.

More: Michigan State No. 13, Michigan No. 25 in preseason AP college basketball poll

No other members of the MSU basketball program have tested positive since Big Ten daily antigen testing began on Oct. 26, the school said, including Izzo testing negative each time until Monday morning. Izzo said his family is doing well, as well as the families of the players and other coaches.

“No players, no family have tested positive,” Izzo said. “Hopefully that'll remain that way and I'll be the only weak link in this group. But don't feel bad for me. I'm sure there's still days ahead that I got to deal with but right now I feel pretty good. I’d go back to work if it was legal, but it's not so I'm going to follow that protocol.”

Izzo is the second Division I coach in the state to test positive recently after Oakland’s Greg Kampe tested positive late last week. Izzo said he tried to reach out to Kampe over the weekend and joked they’d both spend their time now devising game plans for each other.

The fact Izzo is in this position has left the Hall of Fame coach scratching his head. He’s been diligent in following safety protocols but on Saturday said he had a slight cough and some chills but his temperature was good. On Sunday, it was the same thing as he worked out and felt OK.

By Monday morning, though, the tests made it clear Izzo had contracted the coronavirus.

“I think I've been as diligent as anybody, which tells you more how serious the virus is,” Izzo said. “I've been just kind of sitting in my own house and going to work, and as you know we've been testing for quite a while now with the antigen testing for over two weeks. Tested negative every test.

“I would say that I've been an advocate of wearing our masks and practicing social distancing. I'm still an advocate of that. I don't think that deters me in any way, shape, or form. I think we've got to understand that it is serious, and it's invisible. … This isn't to say that the protocols don't work either. Where I got it, I have no clue. Maybe I touched something, maybe I did something else, I just can't figure it out, but maybe I never will be able to, so it really doesn't matter. But I would say to you, don't let up for a second, especially those of you that have kids or families, or even for yourself. You just got to stick to the protocol and hope for the best.”

Izzo’s positive test will challenge his staff and players. Teams can begin their seasons on Nov. 25, and though a schedule has yet to be released, it’s assumed the Spartans will be starting on that date or somewhere close. That means Izzo will have a little more than a week back with his team in person before the Spartans’ first game, as long as he continues to test negative after the isolation period.

By early afternoon Monday, he’d already reached out to his captains after talking with his staff and had a team Zoom scheduled for Monday night. They’ll be hammering home what they have been for several weeks — following protocol to a T and doing what they can to make sure the season happens.

Izzo said he’s confident there will be a season. He’s not sure why, but said it’s time for the country to come together and take the virus seriously. If it does, the chances are greater and Michigan State will get to play the two games we know about — Dec. 1 at Duke and Dec. 9 at Virginia — as well as a full Big Ten season.

And along the way, Izzo will be doing what he can to make sure people understand what’s important.

“Believe in what you believe in, and you should,” Izzo said “But I'm telling you, for a guy who I think is brought up on toughness, it doesn't bother me to wear a mask. If I got to wear an apron or anything else, I'm cool with it. I just want to stay safe and I want everybody else to stay safe and do what you can do to give you the best chance. That's what I'm going to do.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau