- 09.29.2020 The Rise of Philosopher-Athletes
It’s that time of year when 64 teams (well, 68 teams) compete for the chance to win an NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship – March Madness. We cut out of work early (or live stream at our desks) and enjoy 4 straight days of basketball bliss for the first 2 rounds of the tournament. We see the commercials that are filled with elation, buzzer beaters and that insufferable “One Shining Moment” song seemingly played on repeat. Oh yeah, and coaches hugging their players.
Which is why I was shocked Thursday evening to see the scene in the Michigan State-Bradley game between future Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo berating one of his star players during the game. Michigan State, a 2-seed and heavy favorite versus 15-seed Bradley, was not getting the job done in a tight game early in the second half. Upon calling a timeout, Izzo by most accounts “lost it” as a result of one of his players not getting back on defense.
As a Board Member with Positive Coaching Alliance–New England Chapter, I immediately thought about our mission. About how this coaching style might have been received by the player, his teammates, the fans, etc. And if this is the way to get the most out of the team. I get it, the pressure is high and an early exit by the Spartans would have been a tough outcome for the Big 10 champs. It was, however, a situation that most had not been accustomed to seeing – a coach/player altercation typically reserved for the locker room.
As I watched the analysis of the situation on TNT later that night, I was fascinated to see the differing opinions on the panel, especially by the former players – Jeff Capel (former Duke Guard and current Head Coach at Pitt), Candace Parker (former Tennessee collegiate superstar and currently a player on the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks) and Brendan Haywood (former UNC Center and NBA player for several franchises). Capel clearly defended the actions of Coach Izzo, perhaps because there is a brotherhood amongst coaches, or maybe he appreciates the high-pressure situations that led to the altercation. Parker and Haywood had a much different perspective – speaking from a player’s point of view – in that they thought Coach Izzo should have treated the player with more respect on the court. They especially took issue with the finger-wagging that went on and caught on camera. On commentary, former NBA star-turned-broadcaster Reggie Miller described Henry as looking “a little perplexed” by the situation before footage of the huddle was shown and adding: “You see the little lunge there by Izzo, and you see the players getting between. Emotions are high.”
Tom Izzo’s post-game press conference was also a bit peculiar. He didn’t apologize for the incident and thought he was completely justified by holding his player to the highest standards. I don’t think anyone would argue with that, but having to be restrained based on such an aggressive approach seemed overboard.
Clearly there is not one methodology that always works to get the most out of a team. Some coaches are calmer and more reserved (Brad Stevens, Phil Jackson). Others are more intense (Nick Saban, Bobby Knight). Both can work and lead to success. I found it interesting that players (Capel versus Parker/Haywood) had such differing views on the situation. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on Michigan State in future games in the tournament, because it won’t be the last time they face some adversity.