Q+A: Tom Izzo
The Michigan State head coach breaks down his new Dove ad campaign.
SLAM: How much do you sweat on the sidelines?
TI: [Laughs] I’m not Gary Williams, I can promise you that.
SLAM: I was going ask you if it was Gary Williams-level or a little bit less than that.
TI: Yeah, a little bit less than Gary, but it is a job that I’m not a sit-on-the-bench guy. I’m more involved in the game. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m more animated. I’d say sweating is a big part of the game, so that’s the other reason the commercial made sense for me. It is, especially some of the venues we played in during the Final Fours and all those big games. It’s kind of a nerve-wracking part, but it’s an exciting part.
SLAM: How many suits have you ruined over the years from sweating through them?
TI: Well, you know, maybe one or two by sweating. I bet two or three by getting thrown in a pool or getting doused with Gatorade. I’ve had a couple different experiences. I can ruin a suit a lot of different ways. When you live in Lansing, Michigan, you can get off the plane, slip on the ice and rip them, too [laughs]. So, I’ve had it a couple different ways.
SLAM: How about practice? I’m sure you work up a sweat there.
TI: Yeah, practice is an area that I am very involved in. So, the drill work and all that is something that when I’m done with practice, I really do need to take a shower. Kind of like the football practices; that’s how I run my basketball ones. So, there’s no question that perspiration and sweat and all that is there.
The one funny thing I learned, without being a commercial freak here, what this product is, from deodorant and some of the things you use, that stuff almost cracks your skin. This moisturizer…it’s been fun for me to see the difference.
SLAM: Have you got your players to use Dove products?
TI: You know, I did bring one in and since it’s not been out yet, I haven’t talked to them totally about it. I probably will once I’m done with the [commercial] shoot, and I definitely would encourage them to [use it]. I feel very comfortable encouraging not only family but friends and players. They would need it, too.
SLAM: During this time of year, before conference season, what kind of mindset do you establish with your team?
TI: We just came off that game against Gonzaga, and we went out there and we beat them. It was a big win for us. We got back at 6 in the morning yesterday. So now, we’ve got three…I guess, we’ve played Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Gonzaga. Now, I guess you go down a level. It’s always a tricky part. Finals this week, you got the Christmas holidays. Keeping guys focused, especially a young team; I have a very young team. We got to keep them focused now before Christmas, before we get to the conference season…it’s always a big one.
I know Jud Heathcote, my old boss, he used to always say that more upsets happen the last two weeks of December than happen the rest of the season. So, even though I think we’re playing better we’re not a great team. We’re making some improvement.
SLAM: Is it possible to keep your players on an even emotional level throughout the season?
TI: You know, it’s a hard thing for me to do. I’m one of those coaches who wears my emotions on my sleeve. I’d say that I hear some people say that what you want is consistency and the guy that can stay on an even keel. I’ve told my players: I’m not a real good even-keel guy. I don’t want them to be as up and down as I sometimes am. But I don’t like guys that are so even-keeled that if you won a Championship or lost it, you wouldn’t know the difference in the locker room.
I try to stress that emotions are part of the game. We have to learn how to deal with them and curb them. But I try to say that passion and all that is important and the only way you can see it is to demonstrate it. That fine line, Kyle, between celebrating in the end zone and acting like you’ve been there before. That’s a hard thing for coaches to get. What I try to get is what is real. If you’re excited and it’s real, then I’m right with you. I don’t like to be phony about anything. But I don’t love guys that are just one type. That doesn’t excite me. I’m not sure that’s the way I would want to live my life.
SLAM: The Duke and North Carolina games. That’s a tough way to start the season, especially with a young team. Can you call those productive losses?
TI: Yeah, you know, that’s a great question. I laugh because even though doing this, you got Carolina on an aircraft carrier—No. 1 team in the country—and you’re looking at the sky, there’s sailboats traveling along the sideline. You’re playing in front of the President. Every pro that we’ve ever had is at the game. That’s a long day for a freshman. But it gets better.
We go from there to Madison Square Garden—no NBA—so every pro guy is there. Coach K is gonna set the record [for career wins by a coach] and I’m the guinea pig that’s coming in. We’re playing in one of the storied venues of all sports in Madison Square Garden. When we went to Gonzaga – everybody said that’s one of the toughest places in the country to play – and I said it is a tough place. After being there, it is an incredible venue. But I said if my guys can’t play Gonzaga after they played in front of the President of the United States and then Madison Square Garden, there’s something wrong with them.
I think it does benefit you in the long run. It was a little difficult to start out 0-2, but I think we played good enough in stretches of those games.
SLAM: Leading up to March and the NCAA Tournament, do you feel like even with a younger team, that you can push them physically in practice at that time to keep that intensity going?
TI: I try to show them the theme of this commercial. It’s a journey. In a journey, it’s gonna be a long road and we’ve got to get comfortable in that journey. I think when you play a game like we did against Gonzaga, you get a little more comfortable with being on the road. As we march into the Big Ten season, the Big Ten is having a good year. We won the [ACC-Big Ten] Challenge. We won a road game at Gonzaga, which is a ranked team. Indiana beats Kentucky at home. We’ve had some big wins out of conference.
We know we have a long road, and that it’s a long journey. We also have some experience. We have some guys who played in two Final Fours who are still on the team. I coached enough of them. I’m excited about the second half of the year. I just have to make sure the next three games we get through, handle them in a mature way, so that we can hopefully get off to a great start in the Big Ten.