It was a big enough story on its own: Tom Izzo returning to Michigan State, pledging his services for life, making his triumphant return after a too-close-to-call dalliance with his NBA dream. All in all, that's a pretty great story, right?
But of course that wasn't the biggest, or at least most sensational bit to come out of Izzo's news conference Tuesday night. Instead, it was a rather heated spat that pitted Izzo, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and university president Lou Anna K. Simon against local columnists and eventually the media at large.
There's were two continual themes throughout MSU's news conference: One, that the media had in some vague way victimized Izzo and his family during the nine days the coach spent carefully pondering the merits of the Cleveland Cavaliers job. And two, that "the Internet" -- meaning sports coverage on the Internet, presumably -- was largely responsible.
Yeah, it went there. Fun.
President Simon took the microphone first so she could bust like a bubble. Simon said it was "amusing" so many rumors surrounded the story and unfortunate that "tweets became fact." That seemed a weird one-off, but it was soon followed up by athletic director Hollis who, in the midst of a stirring speech about what Izzo meant to MSU athletics and Michigan at large, saved time to give a brief rejoinder on media ethics in the digital age.
Hollis said that the media was "out of control." He claimed it was capable of doing "some very bad things to our society." He said the media's "race to be first leaves a great deal of pain in its wake." Michigan State journalism students should ask for a refund; the athletic director and school president were giving this stuff away for free.
When it was Izzo's turn at the podium, he made some reference to false reports being hurtful -- he actually told the assorted journalists that "bloggers drive me crazy, and they drive you crazy too" -- but more than anything he seemed irked by opinions rather than any particular erroneous report.
One of those opinions belonged to Detroit News columnist Lynn Henning. On Tuesday, Henning wrote that it might be too late for Izzo to come back to Michigan State. Henning believed Izzo's extended NBA dance proved his heart wasn't in East Lansing anymore. Curiously enough, Henning was the one reporter at Izzo's news conference willing to openly question Simon, Hollis and Izzo's characterizations of the media as careless. Which is where things stopped being polite and started getting real. And kind of silly, actually.
In case you missed it, the video is here; the Henning-Izzo exchange begins at the 13:20 mark. It's worth a watch, especially if you enjoy cringing. Every time you think the exchange is going to end, someone awkwardly keeps it going. (Izzo's best line: "It's like a town hall in here now! This is more like the Upper Peninsula!") The long and short: Henning was mad at Izzo for painting the media with a broad negative brush, while Izzo was mad at Henning and his ilk for writing things he didn't like.
So let's settle this rather entertaining regional media spat right here, right now. (No, I'm not a professional mediator, but I did stay at a discount national hotel chain last night.)
Izzo is probably right to be angry about Henning's column. Of course Izzo could come back to Michigan State. He could have come back in August, had he felt like really taking his time. Fans weren't going to turn on him anytime soon. Other controversial opinions about Izzo -- that he was doing this for publicity, for a bigger contract from MSU, or simply because he wanted to stroke his ego -- are probably equally worthy of anger. Throughout the search, Izzo never gave any indication he was interested in the Cavaliers job with anything less than total sincerity. Izzo's never shown disloyalty to MSU. Arguing as much, as a few writers did, was a little bit silly.
Just as silly, though, were Simon, Hollis, and Izzo's continual admonishments Tuesday night. During Izzo's news conference, it often felt like those at the podium had more interest in delivering stale media criticism than in discussing Izzo's decision to stay. Those criticisms? Blogs and the Internet make everything worse. Twitter is not to be trusted. The "race to be first" has become more important than getting things right. Et al.
Here's the thing: Even if any of that were true -- and trust me, it's not -- it's not exactly "the Internet's" fault Izzo took almost two weeks to publicly tell anyone what he wanted to do. Given the coach's protracted consideration and deathly silence on the matter, well, what did he expect?
Frankly, this could have been worse. All things considered, most of the Izzo coverage was reasonable and well-considered, and with the exception of one erroneous blog report, most outlets were willing to keep speculation and rumor-reporting in check until Izzo himself said something of importance. What more does Michigan State want? And just what about all this was so incredibly "hurtful?"
Tom Izzo is beloved by the hoops media. It would be hard to find someone quite so fawned over in both public and private hoops hack circles as Izzo, and for good reason -- he's open, candid, intelligent, down-to-earth, consistently respectful (even when a little grumpy) and he wins like crazy. No other coach in the country commands quite the same mixture of deference and respect as Izzo.
For Izzo to play the victim card now, after nine days of moderate rumor-mongering and the occasional unfriendly column -- well, that just seems petty. Izzo's better than that. His president and athletic director should be better than that. And his triumphant news conference deserved to steer clear of warmed-over media commentary and standoffs with local columnists in favor of the school's deserved celebration at the prodigal return of its beloved coach.
Maybe next time, I guess.