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By Putting Izzo On The Defensive, Media Squandered A Rare Opportunity

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When Tom Izzo talked to the press this week, Michigan State fans had an opportunity to learn what he was really thinking. But the media chose to make itself the story instead.

What's disappointing is that we'll never quite know why.

Why was Tom Izzo seemingly on the verge of walking away from Michigan State after 15 years as head basketball coach? Why was he so intrigued by the opportunity to move to the NBA and coach the Cleveland Cavaliers?

There's been plenty of speculation as to why. Actually, there was almost nothing but speculation.

Did owner Dan Gilbert make an offer - Spartan to Spartan - that his beloved coach (almost) couldn't refuse? All Izzo would say during Tuesday's press conference is that Gilbert "motivated" him, that "he didn't just talk it; he walked it."

Was it about the money? (It's always about the money, right? So how much more would he have gotten?) Would Izzo have wielded some authority in assembling his roster?

Had a 55-year-old coach become sick of the recruiting process? Did he feel like he'd accomplished all he could at MSU, especially after two straight trips to the Final Four?

How much of an appeal does the NBA hold for Izzo? Does any coach want to take on that challenge, to see if he can excel at the highest level of basketball? Was he curious if his philosophies and schemes would work in the pros? Would he have had to change? And if so, was that something he was intrigued by?

Did it mostly come down to the possibility of coaching LeBron James? How many coaches get the chance to work with one of the best players in the league, someone who could eventually be an all-time talent? How much did James's uncertain status with Cleveland ultimately influence the decision-making process? And was it reasonable for Izzo to think he'd get an answer out of James before his free agent money party was to begin?

Izzo provided a glimpse into his thought process when he said that if he didn't look at this opportunity, he'd always wonder. And perhaps that was all he planned on revealing. Talking about what you were offered and how you turned it down doesn't show professional courtesy. Izzo doesn't seem the type to kiss and tell.

Yet he knew that the people wanted answers. He knew how much anxiety he caused within the Michigan State community. As much as he would've preferred to keep this process private, Izzo realized that an explanation was deserved. And under such circumstances, the coach appeared ready to have the type of conversation that we don't often get to see. He seemed willing to let us behind the green curtain.

At least until a certain member of the media put Izzo on the defensive.

The Detroit News' Lynn Henning had a legitimate point about the lack of information coming from the MSU athletic department. And in the absence of such information, rumor and speculation will rush to fill the vacuum. So it's no wonder that the story got blown out of proportion. (Izzo seems to realize that now.)

But that press conference simply wasn't the time and place for Henning to defend the honor of his profession. How funny is it that the guy complaining about not getting information was actually preventing his colleagues - and the public at-large - from getting what they needed to hear? Did Henning really expect Izzo to just let his diatribe go and move onto a question about LeBron James? Instead, the forum got completely sidetracked as we get two guys telling each other how he should be doing his job.

This reminded me of a quote from a few years ago by the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice. Justice was disgusted with colleagues who chose to grandstand at press conferences, rather than use their access to ask the right questions and dig a little deeper.

First rule of journalism is this: if you've got a good question, if you're really looking for information, you don't ask it in a news conference.

Whenever you hear a reporter asking a tough question in a news conference, that reporter isn't interested in the answer. He's only interested in letting everyone know how tough he is.

Henning should know better. Reporters and columnists are not supposed to be the story. They're supposed to cover the story. Yet we've seen this behavior from him before. Two years ago, Brandon Inge found himself displaced from his position after the Detroit Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera. And Inge preferred not to talk about it. At least not until he spoke with team management.

But not getting a response from Inge apparently incensed Henning. And he used the pulpit of his column to complain about it, saying fans deserved an explanation. But people weren't looking for one. This wasn't a story to them. It was a story to Henning, who was upset that Inge wouldn't return his phone calls.

Was Henning really serving his readers' interests by complaining about being snubbed? They didn't care about Inge's non-response back then. And now, they didn't care that the MSU administration was critical of how the media handled this story. (Nor did they care that Henning wasn't invited to a luncheon Izzo held for the reporters that cover his program.)

Sometimes, the media (and bloggers are included in this) works in far too insular a world. Reporters are so used to talking amongst their peers that they end up writing for them, instead of their readers. Outside of sports, we saw this with the criticism of President Obama's Oval Office address on the Gulf oil spill. Reporters and pundits didn't hear what they wanted to hear, so they say the President made a bad speech. Meanwhile, polling suggests that the general public was fine with what they heard. So who exactly was the media fighting for?

The people wanted to hear from Izzo. They wanted to know why someone seemingly at the top of his profession had a wandering eye. This was a chance for everyone to understand each other, for actual insight. That doesn't often happen in these days of cliched quotes and sound bites. When will another such opportunity present itself? Being deprived of that because of someone who chose to serve his own interests is kind of a shame.