Two days before their season-opener against Northern Arizona, Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo enjoyed watching the Spartans' football program pull off a 23-15 upset over No. 16 Illinois this past Saturday.
“I watched every minute of it [and] enjoyed every minute of it," Izzo said. "Some for my sake, some for my love for football, some for my love for Spartan football but a lot to do with [overcoming adversity].”
It was a tough week for head football coach Mel Tucker and Michigan State's football program, which suspended eight players in the wake of the postgame tunnel incident at Michigan Stadium back on Oct. 29.
Izzo commended Tucker for his handling of the situation, both in how Tucker immediately acted to suspend the players involved and in the way the head football coach was able to get his team ready to play against a tough opponent this past week.
“The players isn’t as big – I don’t even know how many were starters and how many weren’t – it’s the distractions that kill you," Izzo said. "You know me – distractions and dirtbags are two things that get in the way."
But as impressed as Izzo was with how Tucker handled things, the head men's basketball coach was equally unimpressed with how some others did there jobs.
“The decisions that [Tucker] made on the players was awesome. There’s not an excuse in the world why players would act like that. But, I have some problems with some other things," Izzo said.
“I think Mel did what he was supposed to do. He reprimanded the guys that didn’t do their job right, but there’s other people who should be reprimanded for not doing their job right.”
Izzo did not elaborate on who he was referring to in regards to people who did not do their job right. However, given the videos that went viral, we can maybe surmise what Izzo was talking about.
Perhaps Izzo was referring to Michigan's coaching staff, which allowed two Wolverine players — Gemon Green and Ja'Dan McBurrows — to immediately exited the field alongside Michigan State's entire team.
While there's no excuse for what ended up happening to those players in the tunnel, it was unfortunate that Green and McBurrows were allowed to put themselves in harm's way by entering the tunnel immediately following a heated and emotional game, rather than the pair staying on the field with their own teammates while the Spartans exited.
Or, maybe, Izzo was referring to the security personnel inside the tunnel — both those employed by the University of Michigan and multiple state police — who were seen standing by and doing nothing to intervene while Green and McBurrows were surrounded and eventually attacked by a group of Michigan State players.
The moment happened quickly. It began and was over in a matter of about two minutes. But there were ways to prevent what happened, both from a procedural standpoint and a behavioral standpoint.
“I’ve got a saying here – what starts bad, ends bad," Izzo said. "If it starts good, it wouldn’t have ended bad. That’s my stick up for Mel and our program. I get tired of Michigan State always looking like the bad guy. There’s been other bad guys.”
As far as people who did do the right thing, Izzo pointed out senior safety Xavier Henderson as a guy who he was impressed by. Defensive tackle Derrick Harmon and safety Kendall Brooks also deserve to be commended for leading Spartan players away from the incident and into Michigan State's locker room.
“Some of the leaders on that team – Henderson is a special kid," Izzo said. "I’ve got to get to know him better, because I was really impressed by everything he did.”
Given the distraction that was caused by the incident as a whole and the actions of a few Michigan State players, Izzo was all the more impressed with the way the Spartans rallied to knock off a Top 20 opponent in Illinois.
“That football game for me was one of the joys of the last couple years, even though we had a better year last year, because I love seeing somebody that’s been through adversity [persevere]," Izzo said.
"For [Tucker] to go through the week…that he went through, and still found a way, and those players, to handle the distractions – that’s more impressive than the underdog thing.
“Fighting through things like they did really impressed me – them as a team, the players and Mel as a coach. He acted immediately. As the coach that’s going through it, you can’t say everything that the rest of us could think or say, but I think Mel in general rallied his troops. That’s what a good coach can do.”
Watch Tom Izzo's full comments about Michigan State football's win over Illinois, and the tunnel incident at Michigan Stadium in the video below: