Facing the media for the first time following a bombshell report regarding Michigan State’s handling of sexual assault allegations within the athletic department, Tom Izzo made one thing very clear: He’s not retiring.
“I’m not going anywhere, in my mind,” Izzo said, what could only be interpreted as the coach acknowledging that, yes, he could get fired over this. “I’m definitely not retiring.”
“There’s a lot of things that happened today that are part of life. I’m going to worry about my team, I’m going to worry about the survivors, and I’m going to worry about what I’m going to do.”
That was about the only thing that Izzo definitively responded to on Friday night. In a press conference that lasted just under 12 minutes, Izzo repeatedly referenced those survivors and that he would “hope that I’m a big part of the healing process for them and our campus community.”
More than anything, it sounded as if the coach was coached.
He repeatedly said that he would not answer questions about ESPN’s bombshell report, which included allegations against a former player-turned-assistant coach, Travis Walton, as well as four former players, only two of whom were named — Adreian Payne and Keith Appling.
“We’ll cooperate with any investigation going forward as we have always done,” Izzo said in a prepared statement, conveniently ignoring the simple truth that Michigan State had been nothing but uncooperative with any investigations in the past, going as far as suing ESPN three times to prevent them from obtaining documents that made their way into today’s story. “And that’s about all I have to say about it. I understand you might have a million questions. I’m probably not going to answer them. I’m going to stick to what I said and talk about the game.”
This was expected. Last week, Izzo created a firestorm when he spoke off-the-cuff about former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon. “I have to say, though, that I have the utmost — the utmost — faith and respect for the leadership of our president, too, at Michigan State,” adding that, “that’s a woman who has dedicated over 40 years — and I’ve been here 33 with her, and I think I know what she stands for.”
Izzo would walk back those comments, and three days later Simon would resign from her post for her inaction in regards to Larry Nassar and allegations that were made about him.
There was never any chance that Izzo was going to say anything other than what the PR professionals told him to say. He was never going to answer for why he allowed Walton to remain on his coaching staff, to allow him to be a part of a Final Four run, after he was accused of knocking a woman out with two punches in a bar. Walton was eventually fired after he was accused of a sexual assault along with two of his former teammates. Both of those teammates, unnamed in ESPN’s report, remained with the program. Izzo was never going to answer any questions about that, either.
And he certainly wasn’t going to answer any questions about why there was no discipline for Appling or Payne when they were accused of sexual assault as freshmen. The duo was never charged with a crime, but Payne essentially copped to the assault during the investigation, telling investigators that he could “understand how [the victim] would feel that she was not free to leave” during the alleged assault.
The complicating factor is that much of this was reported at the time. I wrote about it in 2010. It is convenient that it is not becoming a national story because Larry Nassar was allowed to prey on children on that campus for two decades.
I get that.
But eight years after these allegations were made, Walton and Payne both lost their G-League jobs, Walton as a coach with the Clippers and Payne as a player with the Magic, on the day the report came out when they escaped punishment from Michigan State at the time. (Appling is currently in prison on unrelated gun charges.)
That is a bad look for Michigan State.
It something that Izzo needs to answer for.
It is something that he will continue to be asked about, likely as soon as Sunday, when the Spartans play at Maryland.
Just don’t expect anything more than a canned response.