Wisch: Izzo Needs To Mind His Own Business, Not Illinois’

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) A total of 4,729 nights have passed since the first one of April back in 1999, but few of them since – journalistically, at least – have stuck out in mind quite the same way that evening did.

After all, unless you’re an O’Hare cabbie, it’s not every day that your phone rings at 9:30 p.m. and it’s a guy that you’ve never met calling you from an airport payphone with his bags sitting at his side.

But that’s just what happened 13 years ago when a dog-tired college basketball coach who didn’t know me from a bump on the court was kind enough to return a call while hopping from plane to plane on a whirlwind recruiting trip.

And the name of that April Fool’s Day caller?

Bruce Weber.

No joke.

Back in ’99, I was a 22-year-old sports writer in Ottawa, Ill., working on a story about college basketball recruiting. Weber, meanwhile, had just wrapped up his first year as head coach at Southern Illinois University.

The previous fall, Weber had signed a local player in Plano’s Brad Korn, making the Salukis’ head man a natural source. As it turned out, when he made it a point to call back a rookie reporter from a little newspaper in a town more than 300 miles from Carbondale the first chance that he got, I discovered that the little-known Weber was a naturally good guy, as well.

After that 10-minute conversation, I became something of a Bruce Weber fan. And over the next few years, my admiration only increased as I watched his SIU teams – in person, three times – scratch and claw their way into the upper echelon of college hoops.

Four years after I grilled Weber over the phone, he was hired to succeed Bill Self in Champaign. At that time, I wrote in a column that, “With Weber, Illinois AD Ron Guenther made the right choice – no matter what some media mopes might try to tell you.”

Nine years later, I still feel that way. Despite what happened at the tail end of his Illini tenure, Weber was the right man at the right time for Illinois in 2003 (see: the 37-2 national runner-up campaign of two years later).

Weber was a good hire, and he is a good man. Over the past few years, as his program began suffering one unexpected setback after another, I’ve defended him as much as anyone in the media. To Illini fans, I preached patience, repeatedly stressing my opinion that Weber deserved a legitimate to chance to dig himself out of a hole that while only partly his own making was his full responsibility.

Weber got his chance, but he wasn’t able to fix Illinois. And after missing the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years, it was time for the Illini program to move on, no matter how much of a class act the coach is. And during his emotional farewell press conference last Friday, Weber again proved he very much is that.

I only wish that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo could have been so classy when he was asked during the Big Ten Tournament about Weber’s dismissal. However, instead of making a brief statement in support of his friend, Izzo opted on Friday to instead unspool an inappropriate – and inaccurate – rant against Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas.

“I’m sick about it,” Izzo said when asked by a reporter about Weber’s firing. “I’m sick about it. And I’m sick about it – and make sure you understand the reason why … We have to understand that we blame kids for a lot of things. Kids have changed. Now we have administrators that are pulling the rug under ourselves in the middle of January when you’re 16 and 6 or 7 or whatever it was, and we publicly talk about – we’ll make decisions at the end of the year.

“… I feel bad for the Illini Nation because somebody’s – somebody pulled the rug out from under them. I feel bad for those players that have been there that, in my estimation, weren’t given a fair chance back about the middle of January, whenever that famous statement was made.

“But if you look at that team from that statement, it went directly down. And I feel worse for Bruce because we lost a good soldier.”

Now, while Izzo may have masterful timing on the court, he sure could use some practice off it. Because, it wasn’t mid-January when Thomas said that he would evaluate Weber’s job status at the end of the season. It was Feb. 11, and at that time the Illini train had already veered well off the track, having lost five of its previous six games (the lone victory being a 42-41 decision over Izzo’s Spartans).

Later that afternoon on Feb. 11, the Illini would fall to Michigan and would lose six of their final seven games down the stretch, playing about the same after Thomas’ “vote of no-confidence” as they had before it.

Mike Thomas didn’t sink the Illini. The Illini sunk themselves.

During his tirade, however, Izzo made it sound as if Thomas completely threw Weber under a bus, sabotaging the season. But all the AD actually stated was this: “As I’ve always said, I will assess the situation at the end of the season no different than I do with the other 18 sports, no different than I did for the football program.

“I need to look at the total body of work and all of the things that come into play as far as making those decisions. Because those are important decisions and they affect a lot of people. I’ll tell you this: No one wants to win more than I do. I’m here to win championships.”

Now, I’d hardly call that “pulling the rug” out from beneath someone. But even if Thomas had, Illinois’ rug isn’t one that Michigan State’s coach has any right to comment on.

After all, Tom Izzo doesn’t work for the University of Illinois, and his comments about the way a rival school manages its personnel were wildly out of place (not to mention wildly inaccurate). Enough so, that I think Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany should have publicly rebuked Izzo for his statements.

Now, I still greatly respect the way that Izzo runs his program at MSU, and we both have something in common: a healthy admiration for Bruce Weber. But, going forward, I’d suggest that the Spartans’ coach focus on minding his own school’s basketball business.

And leave Illinois’ basketball business to Illinois.

davewisch Wisch: Izzo Needs To Mind His Own Business, Not Illinois’

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

  • J-Dubya

    Izzo was way out of line.

    He would have never said those things about the MSU administration if one of their coaches was let go.

    Great story about Weber. He is really a class act.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I understand that Izzo and Weber are close friends, and that he was upset. I get all that. And I totally get up supporting Weber, but to try to blame Mike Thomas for Illinois’ collapse is just ridiculous, as is to say that Weber was unjustly fired.

      Izzo could have backed his friend without unfairly ripping Illinois’ AD — and he didn’t even use accurate statements to rip him. Not Izzo’s finest moment, in my book.

  • tom sharp

    FYI: let me be the first of many to inform you that Self, not Weber, recruited the runner-up team. Weber was better at gang bangers and idiots. what was the graduation rate? I’d bet under 25% if you exclude the white kids at he end of the bench that played 10 minutes a year.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Tom, Weber coached that team to the Final Four, not Self. Give credit where credit is due. As for the rest of your comments, I have no idea what you’re even talking about.

      • Don

        Tom Sharp – Coach Weber’s graduation rate was one of the highest in the nation and was higher than Stanford, Duke and Northwestern. Look it up.

        Luther Head – who, for all his troubles and bad decisions early on, is one Summer internship shy of a degree (missing out on finishing because his coach happened to instill enough in him to make him a first-round NBA pick).

        Bruce was a swell guy and did some good things, but, ultimately, his time passed and Mike Thomas made the right decision to seek to move forward with new leadership in the program.

      • tom sharp

        Sorry Don this site lists all Men’s teams from the 2010 NCAA Tournament:

        Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Rates for 2010 NCAA Men’s Division I  Basketball Tournament Teams 

        Michigan State last year graduated 56% of it’s men’s team. and only 44% of the African American players who make up the bulk of the team in terms of minutes played (100% of the white players graduated). The university as a whole graduated 80% of it’s “student-athletes.” Illinois didn’t make the tournament so their number must be found elsewhere, but I suggest you don’t look at the university’s sites for a real number!

  • http://hoopsvader.wordpress.com hoopsvader

    Its over with. Izzo had his say and move on.

  • tiny

    Izzo is president of the NABC, that means he’s an advocate for coaches, comprende?. He has always reacted this way– he got after Michigan for firing Tommy Amaker. Some may not like it, but he’s remarkably consistent. If a guy hasn’t cheated and he’s won a decent amount Izzo’s going to say something if he’s fired.

    • Michael Silver

      Izzo does not have a right to comment? I’d say he has at least as much of a right as this reporter! It’s college basketball – everyone has a right to comment!

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      1.) if Izzo wants to comment, he needs to have his facts straight. He wasn’t even close.

      2.) I like Tom Izzo. A lot. But he overstepped his boundaries on this one. If he wanted to support Weber, that’s cool. I’ve supported Weber many times, and will continue to do so. I hope he fares well at his next job, and I think he will. But when Izzo started ripping another program’s AD and its hiring/firing practices that’s out of line. And I’d say that about any coach in the Big Ten.

  • izzo nation

    you’re an idiot. a reporter asked him – he commented. go back to the dairy queen in your one-stoplight town and write a review of their latest blizzard concoction. (something more suited to your analytic ability). illinois was always tough, and weber seemed decent. you’re lucky he gave you whatever time he had.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Chicago, world famous for Dairy Queens and single stoplights …

      • J-Dubya

        Dave, aren’t you from the town that invented Dairy Queen?

        Anyway, Izzo Nation, I can’t believe that you would defend Izzo here. He was so out of line it is beyond comprehension. He would have never made those comments about his own administration – so he shouldn’t make them about UofI’s.

      • RJ OGuillory

        I love the DQ comment…as though being a Taxi-Driver or working at DQ is supposed to make you somehow more or less qualified to write a news/sports story at another point in your life? Those are just jobs people do, sometimes stepping up to bigger things…sometimes serving Braziers for 25 years and loving it….

        …the effort to make fun of your home town has nothing to do with the story…

        …and besides, I have had great fun all across the world…I climbed Mt. Fuij in Japan, played golf in an dormant volcano in Italy and received a personal tour of Air Force One…..all because I managed a Burger King…. Ha!

        Everyone wants to make fun of McDonald’s, until they are in line for their Big Mac..? I don’t get that?


        RJ O’Guillory
        Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Kankakee (where I spent the first four years of my life) indeed did have one of the first DQs in the nation. I believe Joliet had the first, though. In any case, I’m brushing up on my blizzard review skills right now …

      • RJ OGuillory

        …and you seem to have a pretty good sense of humor….


        RJ O’Guillory
        Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

  • Eric

    Izzo is the president of the NABC. That’s exactly what he is supposed to do.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      So, he’s supposed to make inaccurate and unfounded accusations about another school’s AD who handled a difficult and disappointing situation completely appropriately and did everything above-board?

      Oddly enough, I don’t see that listed anywhere on the NABC website:


      • Eric

        So, are you insinuating that Union Presidents make it a habit of publicly supporting the firing of their union members? Come on. Any person in an appointed or elected position similar to this is going to speak out in support of his/her delegates.

        As President of the NABC, when you see a guy get shown the door who wins at a pretty good clip AND does it without cheating, you owe the rest of the NABC to defend that individual, regardless of any personal relationship. As mentioned above, this isnt the first time he has done it, and it wont be the last.

        You may not like his comments, may not agree with his position, but they were absolutely justified.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        If you’re going to hop up on a soapbox, you have to at the very least have your facts straight. Izzo did not. And why does supporting a coach and ripping an AD have to go hand-in-hand?

        Thomas didn’t have any choice but to make this decision with the momentum the Illinois program, its attendance and its fan interest are heading. Izzo knows that. And he knows that if he missed the tourney three times in five years, even he would be on a hot seat. It was not an unjust firing — and, again, I’ve been in Weber’s corner for years.

        Support Weber by all means, but don’t also rip an AD who didn’t do anything wrong. And especially don’t do it with inaccurate “facts.” Izzo did not handle his position as president of the NABC with particular decorum or accuracy in this instance. I really don’t understand why that’s even up for debate.

  • Eric

    And I dont see where Izzo manifested any falsehoods. He ripped the guy for making a public statement that was less than supportive of his coach who was still in shape for a tourney run.

    You can’t honestly tell me when you read the AD’s comments you didn’t think “Oh, that doesnt sound good. Weber had better win or else.” We all did.

    And for the record, I thought Weber was on the hot seat before those comments….just as most of the college basketball-watching world probably believed. As an AD, you know how those comments would be perceived by Weber, the team, and the fanbase. He knew exactly what he was doing.

    All that being said, I hope he’s not upset….he got exactly what he wanted. Shaka Smart (didnt Thomas introduce him to his wife?) should be available this weekend.

    Frankly, I find the it amusing how someone could support Thomas and not Izzo. Both guys made their comments with their own agenda firmly in hand, and rightly so.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      So, Eric, what exactly was Mike Thomas supposed to have said when asked on a Champaign radio show on the morning Feb. 11 about Weber’s job status? It’s not as if he called a press conference to declare a vote of no-confidence.

      And who said that Izzo “manifested falsehoods”? He inaccurately described the situation in Champaign, repeatedly talking about Thomas “famous comment” in mid-January. It wasn’t in mid-January, it was in mid-February three weeks before the season ended. And Thomas hardly caused Illinois’ season to collapse. The reason why Weber was on the hot seat at that time was because the team was already in an awful tailspin following the Ohio State victory.

      Again, what you’re failing to acknowledge — and I’m not sure why — is that Izzo didn’t even characterize his comments accurately. He literally blamed Thomas for sabotaging Illinois season. That’s nonsensical. Beyond that, Izzo far overstepped his bounds as NABC president. Make a comment, but don’t go on a tirade. Especially one that’s filled with innacurracies.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        In my haste, btw, my spelling of “inaccuracies” was quite inaccurate :)

  • RJ OGuillory

    Well…Dave, Buddy…..

    I don’t see where it is any more of your business to write about the firing of Coach Weber, anymore than it was for Coach Izzo to respond to a question over it?

    I mean, what qualifies you to comment? The fact that as a cab-driver sometime long ago…Coach Weber was a paying-fare?

    Is that the intimate connection that the writer has as opposed to a guy who works in the same field, is a good friend of the man, and has an intelligent comment about the subject?

    Dave, buddy……work harder at coming up with legitimate sports stories…and you won’t have to make an idiot of yourself so often…


    RJ O’Guillory
    Webster Groves-the Life of an Insane family

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      RJ, buddy … Thanks for weighing in.

      Glad I could provide you with a forum to plug your book.

      • RJ OGuillory

        Ok..Ok….Dave…I take back my idiot comment…I still don’t agree with the Izzo issue…but I noticed that you took out and posted that section of my message that mentioned your brief moment of Weber-Interconnection…like meeting the President or something…?

        Anyway,..I see you are smart enough to understand the crux of the issue…it isn’t that people have to necessarily like what you say,..just that they are reading your stuff and saying something about you….at all,..eh?


        RJ O’Guillory
        Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

        p.s.- ..my book is a memoir about growing up with a highly dysfunctional, corrupt law enforcement family in St. Louis…in Webster Groves to be exact…we are working on a film project for it…you may enjoy it…

  • Eric

    I still dont see the inaccuracies you speak of. Was his interpretation of the intent/purpose of Thomas’s comments wrong? Perhaps. But, his point is that regardless of Thomas’s intent, that’s exactly how it played to the public.

    How should he have responded? How about simply “Bruce Weber is our basketball coach and he has my full support in chasing another NCAA tourney berth. Go Illini!”

    Again, it doesnt bother me that he chose to put doubt in the minds of the public…I’m sure the majority of the Illinois fanbase was happy to know the writing was on the wall….but, if you’re going to pubicly comment on the longevity of your coach’s job (which I hope we both agree he knew he was doing), I dont see how criticism from the other direction would be unexpected.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Eric, we can agree to disagree if we must, but Izzo was inaccurate. Four times during his rant, he referred to “January,” and if that’s not an inaccuracy, well, I don’t know how to convince you that it is. And such comments coming from Thomas in mid-January would have been much different than them coming in mid-February (which is when they did).

      Quite simply, Izzo was unfair to Mike Thomas, a first-year AD who walked into a nightmare situation coaching-wise in Champaign. Thomas has shot straight with people all year long, and at the time of his comments — again, in mid-February, not mid-January — Illinois had already lost five of six games.

      It then lost by nine at Michigan (hardly a collapse) and by six to Purdue at home (hardly a blowout). Weber then had his mea culpa press conference after the Boilermakers game, after which Illinois proceeded to lose by 23 at Nebraska. That was when the season fully imploded in spectacular fashion. After the Purdue game, not after Thomas’ comments prior to the Michigan game. It was clear the Illini were already en route to an enormously disappointing season by the time Thomas answered the question about Weber’s job status.

      As for Izzo, again, his role as NABC president might afford him some rights to comment, but not the liberties he took in that press conference last week. Mike Thomas didn’t deserve that and, again, if Izzo is going to rip the guy, at the very least, have all your facts and dates in order. Don’t just get up there and spout out random dates and statements that don’t even match up under scrutiny.

      Once again, support Weber by all means. But ripping into Thomas? That was out of bounds.

      • Eric

        So your beef is the fact he said January mistakenly? Just today I referred to yesterday as Tuesday with a co-worker. Guess its been a long week.

        I stand by my earlier statement, AD Thomas knew exactly what he was saying when he “wasn’t” saying anything. We all know that.

        Coach Izzo may have inaccurately said January instead of February, but that doesnt lessen the overall message of his statement. And yes, I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on that.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Well, of course, Thomas knew what he was saying when he didn’t “say” anything. I mean, no kidding. But, again, not Izzo’s business and not the reason that Illinois went down the tubes.

        And, yes, Izzo’s tirade lost a good deal of credibility when he kept repeating the wrong date over and over (it also lost credibility when he blamed Thomas for the team’s failure). I doubt your mistaken comment to your co-worker was part of a nationally televised tirade ripping a boss at a rival company. Again, when you hold the position that Tom Izzo holds and your words carry such weight, you need to make sure your words are accurate. If he doesn’t care, then OK.

        But I still think the Big Ten should. Because having coaches of one school ripping ADs at another isn’t good business. And, again, Izzo overstepped his bounds.

  • Samir J. Nanavati


    I listed to Izzo’s comments and they are constant with his statement on a radio talk show mid-season about Thomas’ statements. Izzo wasn’t defending Weber’s job – that, he said, is Illini’s business, but rather it was commentary about the importance of having everyone on the same page during the season. The AD could have simply said, “Coach Weber has the full support of this administration” regardless of his private views. Izzo’s statement was about how words can impact on an organization and, in this respect, the AD erred. Izzo is all about relationships, I would have been surprised if he didn’t comment on Coach.

  • J-Dubya

    College basketball coaches have a union? Are you kidding me?


  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Good column Dave, you nailed IZZO (WYC Tom?).

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      WYC is exactly right, Arse. :)

  • Ryan

    I’m assuming you’ve never played a college sport! Confidence is alot of the game and when the Ad doesn’t even support and give confidence to a team there’s something wrong! Do I think his statement that he would access things at the end of the year was out of line? No! But not once in this season did he show support for Bruce Weber! He should’ve ended that statement by rallying fans to come together and show support for a great coach with a talented team! Although he’s never expressed it, his actions have made it very clear he came in to clean house! He’l going to find out really quick how hard it is to “WIn Championships” at Illinois! I am going to go out on a limb and suggest its going to be almost impossible to do with his football hire!

    • J-Dubya

      This is so off base. I can’t even describe it.

      Weber didn’t succeed. Neither did John Calipari at UMass and Memphis despite deep runs into the tourney. People succeed or fail for different reasons. Weber had his chance and he failed. Doesn’t change who he is. He failed. You wouldn’t tolerate average performance year over year from yourself or anyone that reports to you.

      Izzo should have kept his mouth shut, or just said, “Bruce Weber is a great friend of mine, always has been, and always will be. I am really sad to hear that he and I will not be coaching against each other anymore. He is a class act all around and we need more guys like him.”

      Tell me, would Izzo have made the same comments to defend the MSU football coach if he was fired? NO WAY! NO WAY that he would call out his own administration. Therefore, he shouldn’t call out UofI’s.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Exactly, J-Dubya. Dead-on.

  • Paul

    Have always had a huge respect for how Izzo runs his program, but his actions and comments on the Illinois situation were completely inappropriate.

    The radio comments by the Illinois AD were completely non-news in Champaign when he made them. No one even blinked. It wasn’t until Izzo ran with them to the media mid-season that they became a national headline.

    So answer this: If Weber’s job status being in the media is such a fatal distraction to the team’s success, how could Izzo possibly justify magnifying the issue mid-season? Its completely hypocritical. He started a fire where there was none then blamed Mike Thomas for it. Ridiculous.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Izzo’s comments also served as a way to potentially poison Illinois’ pool of job candidates. Izzo’s comments were out of line and irresponsible in more ways than I can count. And I think it’s silly that anyone would try to argue otherwise.

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  • sue

    Man o Man, Tom Izzo is one of the most respected coaches around! Aways honest and upfront, so for him to speak out publically about that issue is Big! I would be feeling very small right now if I was the A.D. It states this is his first year in the position, and I guarantee, this is a decision that will carry with him throughout his career, and when an issue such as this happens again, I bet he will handle it completely different than he did this time. HOPEFULLY.

    • J-Dubya

      Not a chance that he will change a thing. He handled this perfectly.

      What should he have said? No comment? That would have been worse than saying what he did, which was, “we evaluate all coaches at the end of the season.”

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