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Tom Izzo's return marred by spat with a Detroit columnist

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Michigan State brass made a point of painting Tom Izzo as a victim of the media's "hurtful" coverage during Tuesday's news conference, so Detroit News columnist Lynn Henning felt the need to defend his colleagues.

Instead of asking a question when it was his turn with the microphone, Henning took the opportunity to point out that Izzo's dalliance with Cleveland was a national story and most reporters were doing their best to cover it as accurately as possible.

"If there was recklessness, then it needs to be delineated to the specific offenders, not a blanket indictment of media," Henning said. "We took this responsibility very seriously and we were doing it sans any comment from Michigan State University. That makes for a very difficult road to hoe."

Izzo responded by defending his track record with the media and suggesting it would have been unwise for him to comment much under the circumstances, leading to a very public, somewhat uncomfortable 10-minute debate on media ethics. (The debate begins at the 13:20 mark of the above video)

"I think I've proven over 15 years I've been as media friendly as any coach in the country," Izzo said. "The bottom line is it went too far."

A televised news conference certainly wasn't the proper forum for Henning to make his point, but the resulting discussion between he and Izzo certainly made for an interesting sideshow.

On the one hand, Henning is absolutely right that Michigan State can't remain silent for nine days in the face of a huge national story and expect that coverage will cease or that misinformation won't surface. On the other hand, Henning probably shouldn't have been the one to deliver this message given that his column the previous day suggesting that it might be too late for Izzo to return to Michigan State was one of the pieces that drew the coach's ire.

Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon first broached the topic during her introductory speech at the news conference when she expressed disappointment that "rumors became stories and tweets became fact." Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis also scolded reporters for making life more difficult for Izzo, suggesting the public was "swayed by ridiculous and outrageous rumors from a media that was self-admitted out of control."

Aside from an unfriendly column or two and a Cleveland-based blog that erroneously reported Izzo had told his players he was leaving, I'm not sure there was anything about the coverage that warranted Michigan State's ire.

Yes, Izzo received a barrage of phone calls and text messages. Yes, there were reporters waiting for him when his plane from Cleveland landed. Yes, a horde of print and TV media attended his youth basketball camp the past two days. But this was a story of enormous interest in the state of Michigan and beyond, and that was the only way for reporters to cover it since nobody at Michigan State was talking.

Neither Izzo nor Michigan State officials did anything wrong by staying silent as long as they did, but maybe next time they'll remember that their fans were starved for information and the media were doing their job by trying to provide it.

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