Putting Nix to bed
Derrick Nix left it all at the podium in front of the glaring lights, cameras, recorders, reporters and supporters Thursday, then Tom Izzo had some words. First of all, here are all of those words:
"Good afternoon everybody, I'm Derrick. I just want to say it's embarrassing to even have this press conference because I let a lot of people down. I truly apologize to the program. You know, one bad decision can change a person's life. But you know, coaches and former players and friends and family all have given me a second chance to come back and finish my basketball career and I just want to say thank you all. Sorry to the media, my family and I want to say sorry to little Steven Izzo because that's somebody who looks up to me and is a big part of my life.
"From this point on I've got to become a man, make all the right decisions for me and my future here and just try to walk a straight line. I realize that I'll be being watched now. That's the decision that I made, so that's the life I have to live. I just want to be able to move forward and regain my trust with a lot of players and coaches and family and refocus my whole life, continue to finish out the rest of this year, become the leader that everybody's looking for me to be and just get my life right back on the right line. I just want to thank you all. Thank you."
"Well, I've spent a week dealing with this and done a pretty good job of talking to people I wanted to talk to. When you talk to former players, I tried to communicate with some media people that I respect and trust. Talked to guys like Clarence Underwood and talked to Carl (?) Taylor to try to figure out, each generation's a little different, each culture is a little different. The bottom line at the end of the day, there's still a right and wrong in everything we do. And as look at it, there's two decisions to be made here — one's for the program and one's for the person. The program is not the university, it's not the coach, it's not the AD, the program is the people that were here and built it. And those people that built it are the soldiers, the players, they're the ones that — I can't believe some guys came back, but they didn't come back for me, they came back for him. What's cool about that is players understand players. As I told Derrick throughout this week, if you go to war, you never leave a soldier behind. These guys are making sure that nobody's left behind.
"So for the program, there were many players before that made a mistake here or there, some public, some private. And it doesn't make them any better. But it's just a part of growing up. The problem is, when something's made public, it takes on a life of it's own. And we had incredible leadership. This guy has made incredible strides. And you can bet this decision is not without talking to numerous people, some that are here, some that aren't. But he's made numerous strides, mostly with his weight, schoolwork, being a better teammate than he was his first two years. And I think the Austins and Day Days of the world have to take credit for that. Here, the Andres, DTs, and ... Mateens that have come back. Pep's here. It's kind of funny to see Anthony Ianni here. I think anybody that's been a part of it understands that there are mistakes that are made, and what I have to make a decision on, that I have made, I tried to look at it as a coach, as a community leader, and I tried to look at it as a parent. And boy, that's a tough job. Each one of those things brings something different.
"I look at Derrick's body of work, what he did. I look at the fact, in my mind, as adults, we always want to speed the process. And I keep telling my kid, 'You've got to do better in school, you've got to do better in basketball, you've got to do better in soccer.' Whatever the sport is, I want him to get there quicker. But there is a process. The process usually makes a boy a man. The process makes a girl a woman. There are definitely some incredible highs in this job. There are definitely some incredible lows. Unfortunately, the lows are always worse than the highs, as many coaches have said.
"In making my decision to keep Derrick under some circumstance that he's going to have to live under, it doesn't change with anything I've done before, as some players have reminded me. It's just this one was a little more public, which makes it a little more embarrassing to the school, to the program, to the players, to him, and unfortunately to his mother, which I think some of you have rudely attacked about some things. Attack me, I make money to get attacked.
"But the reality of it is, I uh, I watched a movie the other day. It was called the little documentary, the UCLA Dynasty, and they had it from pre-Kareem Abdul Jabbar up. And went through the different phases, the 50s and the 60s and the 70s, and the Waltons and the Jabbars and the Curtis Rowes, all the way on up. And I was laying there at 5:30 in the morning and I was watching this show and I said, ‘You know, there’s been problems and things to deal with and coaches that dealt with them a lot better than me, a lot better than me, with a lot bigger names.' And when I look at what the final outcome is I think it was John Wooden but it might have been somebody else. One said that, 'We don’t, how’s he doing? We don’t measure how he is doing now, we measure him how he is doing when is gone. What did he learn? What did he grow from?'
"We are in a society right now that is pretty quick fix. What did you for me today? And we are in a society that is quick to kind of throw people out the door do save their own butt. The easy thing for me to do would be to get rid of him. Trust me, it would be easier. I’ve read all of your stories, I’ve read your blogs, I’ve listened to the TV, I’ve listened to the radio, I did stuff I didn’t do when I was coaching this year. I did it when I was trying to make a decision because I think it is a community decision.
"But when I look back at some of the players that have gone through minor things and what they meant to me and the program, and what they’ve done in their own lives, there is a hell of a lot more good than bad. So I’m gonna challenge him. I’m gonna make him do some things. My staff will be on him. But I’m not watching him morning noon and night.
"I’m hoping that this is the year that the boy, the little boy, has as Mary Babers said, starts to become a man. Now you might all kid yourselves, but there are a lot of people in here who aren’t men yet, or think they are, and I’d be one of them. Because I think it’s a process that goes to the day they put you down. But I’m gonna definitely make life miserable for him because I want him to be successful.
"My old, old, old football coach, Buck Nystrom, once made a statement at a spring practice to me, ‘Son you don’t understand, discipline is the greatest form of love you can show someone.’ So today, I’m gonna tell him I love him. And I’m gonna tell him that these guys are gonna help, the staff … and I’m gonna teach him that the world can be cruel. A lot of people throw stones that if the tables were turned, I’d just ask you to remember this before you ask me questions: Do you want me to treat him like a 6-9, 275-pound human being that just kind of walks and goes by himself or do you want me to treat him like I treat your son?
"You better think before you answer that. Because I know how I’d want my son treated. And he’s gonna make mistakes. And I’m gonna have to deal with him. I don’t think there is one person in this room that hits the road on their son. And when we make a commitment to a kid, we tell mom, we tell dad, you know give us the baton for four years and see if we can continue the process or make it even better. So, I’m opening it up for questions and I’d like to answer them."
* What are the conditions for Derrick?
"Yeah, there is gonna be issues that, there’s gonna be isssues that I’m gonna have to determine yet. You know we just found out everything and we just made our decisions, but there’s a potential that, depending what he does this summer, depending how he acts, all the different things he put in front of him, that will determine whether this turns into games, or turns into … I guess total suspension if you want to say that.
"We've all got responsibilities and he's gonna have them. But I have not come up with anything concrete. My staff and I put together a list of things on the board the other day that kind of took up the whole board. But you know we'll pare them down to things that are important. There's gonna be academic issues, there'll be social issues and there'll be team issues. I'll be more than happy when we get it done and he adheres to I'll let everybody know exactly what they are. I have no problem with that at all.
* Is he reinstated as of today?
"Yeah. Well he's reinstated under the realm of what he's got adhere to. So you know, I sure don't want anybody walking away thinking there will be nothing done because there will be. I don't want anybody thinking he got away with anything, because I just got off the phone with his mother, it's been hell. And deservedly so. But I've gotta make sure I keep everything in perspective as best I can. I think this program over the years has proven that players we've stuck with, boy you can count on one hand the ones that let us down. And when you think of hundreds of players, that's pretty impressive. I think the good thing, as hard as this is that it's public, I told Mateen up in my office I said, 'You know, maybe it's OK that it's public because maybe this time instead of just helping our team, maybe we can start helping our society a little bit.' You know me, I'll take on that challenge and I'll make sure the guys around me do.
"One thing I would appreciate, you call me on this. I would appreciate you not calling his mother. I talked to her and she's been through hell. I'm her spokesman. You can call me on that and if that's not good enough she's gonna not answer."
* Might Derrick miss games?
"You know what, I'm not committed to anything at this point. I think that there some probable things that will happen, but those are gonna stay in-house until I meet with my AD, my staff, with Derrick, watch his progress. Then I'll make those decisions, but it will be strictly for the betterment of the program and for him. It won't be about the team. This is not a … team stuff is like one year stuff. That's season stuff. I'm not worried about the team. I made some decisions in the past here that definitely affected the team. I'm more worried about the big picture. I'm sure I'll use some of the guys in the back of the room to help me figure out what's best. I'm not Einstein, I'm just a coach, and so I'm not gonna commit to anything right now. It's been a whirlwind for me just to get through this and we wanted to get it out as quick as we could because the life of its own … I couldn't go one press conference during the year without expressing how much I enjoy, respect and admire Twitter. So I will again tell you that if you don't try and get in front of it, it takes on a life of its own. It's kind of funny because I've always respected the media because I always respected you had a boss. And when you have a boss, he holds you accountable, he threatens to fire you, but blogs and tweets and things like that, there ain't no boss. It's about you. That's the way it goes.
* What about this personally hurts you the most? You said he could be a captain, some look at this like it's not a big deal, some a societal issue.
"It is a societal issue, but I think we all understand we're above some of those things in a lot of different ways. We're held to different standards whether it be fair or unfair. It did hurt me that you put faith in people. You know it, I think he has qualities. I think he made … UP phrase … an idiotic, ridiculously poor decision. And he did. But I thought over the last 365 days he showed an incredible amount of work ethic, consistency and starting to grow up a little bit as we all do. So I had to put two together and come up with the best I could come up with and to me … me being disappointed. Guys I'm disappointed a lot of times. Me to give up on somebody is not what I've done very often. So I must think it's right."
* How frustrating was making the decision, knowing more than the public/media know behind the scenes about Nix?
"It's disappointing when I see things out there that are in my mind, you know, ridiculous. And when I see some people throwing stones, when I know things about those people themselves, I find it ridiculous. And yet, let me tell you, there's nobody on this team -- you can ask them, you can ask the old guys, you can ask the young guys, you can ask Pruder -- nobody talks about two things more than I do. The program and the players before you. ... Role model, you know, I love Charles Barkley. I've spent time with him. I just don't agree with him. I think we are role models.
"But role models, guys, aren't people that never make mistakes. Role models are people that learn from them and then moved on. Some of my best leaders are guys that made mistakes and then moved on. So I can promise you one thing, he's gonna be involved with kids. Because I had to go home and explain something to a 12-year-old I really had no interest in explaining. And he's gonna be involved with kids, and personally I think he's gonna love that. But we do have an obligation. And I want this program different than a lot of other programs and I think that's the way I've tried to do it. But this is just one of those cases where he made a ridiculously stupid decision. But if I thought it was an every-day decision, we wouldn't be sitting here. Or the press conference would be by myself. So does that answer part of it? Yeah, it's hard.
"It's hard because these guys in general do so much more than they get credit for. And it's not easy being an athlete. I would like to turn the tide once in a while and have you be scrutinized like they are. The pro guys, they get paid for it. I get paid for it. We're not gonna call a scholarship getting paid to do, to take all this. It's not the way it is. They're human beings. They make mistakes. They give a lot to this university, they give a lot to this community. They've done a lot for it. This place is a better place because of the people in the back of the room. My job is to make sure it stays a better place with the people in the front of the room. And that's what I'm gonna try to do."
* The car has been discussed, can you clear that up?
IZZO: "You know, whose car was it?"
NIX: "My brother's girlfriend's car, it was a 2007 ..."
IZZO: "OK, you know, there was a lot made of it. And I'll be honest with you. That to me would be like miniscule. If there's one guy in this room that's gonna let a bunch of tweeters tell you, or act to you like myself or let me think of an alum, those alums or -- Tim Staudt, you're an alum, or anybody else that's an alum, Matt you're an alum. I took incredible offense to the thought of why they were making the car a big deal. If it was a 2011, 09, 07, 03, it wasn't his car, I know his car. The first night when he called, I knew whose car it was. That was already checked out. And so I wouldn't hold that against anybody, except why were we making it a big deal? That's what I would hold against you. But if you thought that was pertinent information, then you've got to do it.
"But it did take on a life of its own. It gave a bunch of people at other universities a chance to throw missiles. And you know what? They threw them. We're still standing. I'm gonna be standing. And that's the only thing I know about the car. I know the same amount of stuff you guys know. I got the same report you guys got. I hope none of you have to go through that, the way things are spread, the way things are reported.
"But that is nobody's fault, that is just a misunderstanding or a mis -- somebody got it wrong. But to me that is nothing, it is not pertinent with this story in any way, shape or form. And if somebody wants to make it that, under the circumstances I think they want to make it at, now we've got a fistfight, now I have a problem."
NIX ASKS TO SAY ONE MORE THING:
"Being an athlete, you have a lot of people in your ear, telling you this and that. When you're on top (and playing). But when you get put in certain situations, you get a chance to see who's really coming to bat for you. And I just want to thank coach Izzo and coach Garland and coach Stephens and coach Dane Fife. Because besides them, only them and my mom came to my rescue. And that was a tough situation as far as being arrested and being kicked off the team and all that. So I just want to thank them and let everybody know who's watching: Know who your real friends and family members are. Because you know, I've got a lot of family and like I said, only my mom came to my rescue. And she don't know much about basketball as far as getting people, trying to help people when they're in trouble and stuff like that. So I just want to thank those four guys for just being there and supporting me through this whole process."
And then it was over. And then things got a little bit contentious out here on the www. First, let's talk about what actually mattered Thursday: Derrick Nix. I thought he was genuinely contrite and emotional. I said from the start that he would have a chance to remain with the team, now he does and I think that's the right choice. The obvious choice. He has come a long way from his arrival at MSU in 2009. He smoked some pot and drove in a car. The legal impact will be minor. The public impact has been major. And while college athletes enjoy a lot of perks and benefits -- including media coverage that is 98 percent positive -- the flip side is the scrutiny that can come in a situation like this. Not many people get to do what Nix gets to do, play basketball in front of thousands of fans and on national TV (with a chance to make a lot of money playing it later). Not many people have to do what he did Thursday, stand at a podium with tears flowing for doing something thousands of college kids do regularly. My guess is that he responds. My guess is that this ends up making him better for next season -- in terms of his body, his basketball, his social life and his academics -- than if it didn't happen. And if I were Izzo, I would not eliminate the possibility of Nix serving as a senior captain. Some people may find that ridiculous, but I'll bet Mateen Cleaves wouldn't. He had some legal snags and did just fine at the helm of the team. I'm pretty sure a pot arrest isn't going to devalue Nix in the eyes of his teammates.
Now to the less-important stuff. The contentious stuff. Izzo was fuming for much of his time at the podium, about a variety of things. He talked about people "throwing stones" even though they have no right to throw them. He talked about people "attacking" Nix's mother. I assume he's talking about media people and not fans. Or is he listening to fans on talk radio, reading comments on stories and confusing that with media? The only mainstream media opinion I saw during this ordeal that called for Nix to be gone was a column by Drew Sharp. And Drew is very consistent on this. He essentially thinks the only way the behavior of athletes will change is if there's zero tolerance on all missteps. I couldn't disagree more, but it's his opinion and it doesn't change. Other than that, who was out there "throwing stones" in the media? As far as the "attacking" of Nix's mother, I'd really like to know what Izzo is referencing there. I called her and I'm sure others did as well. After the police report came out, I called her to ask her about Barbara Pettway (the woman to whom the car is registered) -- assuming she could clear up that question. She said no comment and hung up when I identified myself and before I could get out a question. I didn't call her back. She was clearly upset. If someone actually "attacked" or berated her, that person should be called out.
Speaking of the car, that's where Izzo lost me. I'm sorry, I just don't get how he can question that as ... a question. First of all, everyone reporting on this story cited the police report -- and the registration photocopied onto the police report -- as identifying the car as a 2011 Dodge Charger. Run the VIN number and it says 2007. Can't say I've ever seen that before. In terms of perception, there's a pretty big difference. Still, would the car have been completely dismissed as an issue if the police report listed it as a 2007 model? No! If someone is asking the question, is that person assuming Izzo is cheating? Or that Nix is taking money from an agent? Or anything else? No!
It's simply a question that must be asked. You're going to sit here and tell me, after what we saw 15 years ago at Michigan, a few months ago at Ohio State and countless other times at other places, that a college athlete driving a nice car (I'd say a Charger qualifies) in an arrest is just going to be a non-issue? To me, the fact that it was registered to someone else makes it more of a question. Who is the person? We finally got an on-the-record answer to that Thursday. Fine. But Izzo made it seem like anyone inquiring is calling him a cheater -- when he knows as well as anyone that a coach probably hasn't purchased an athlete a car since the 1970s. It's boosters, it's agents, it's often someone acting without the knowledge of the coaching staff. I did a story last summer on MSU's compliance department and director Jennifer Smith told me of how her people check regularly on what athletes are driving. MSU checked into a car Morris Peterson was driving back in his playing days, and it has checked on others. It's worth checking, it's worth asking. And frankly, Izzo should be happy it was asked yesterday rather than let this dangle without any explanation.
But he was angry and defensive. I tweeted that the idea that the car should not have been an issue is "one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard." I feel the same way today. Jemele Hill tweeted that Izzo is a "fantastic coach and a good person, but he loses me when he tells media how we should do our jobs."
Then, 10 million people told Jemele and me that media should stop telling Izzo how to do his job. Which happens very, very rarely, but it's a fair response. Among some of the other responses, I got some support (thanks), some venom (though I do enjoy the term "butt hurt") and a valid question: To paraphrase, did anyone know what Scott Skiles was driving back when he was arrested in the 1980s, or are these questions reserved just for black athletes?
Very fair point. I'd like to think that an athlete of any color driving a nice car would inspire a question. Maybe I'm naive. However, if you've followed Nix's career you may have read the story I did on him this season, about how much he's matured and about the inspiration that his mother, Darlis Nix, provides for him. Talking about how she heads the housekeeping crew at a hospital from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, AND works as a custodian at Detroit Public Schools from 1-9:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, Nix said: "It's hard because she's a single parent and she's still taking care of most of us. It's kind of hard to see so what I do is I try to kill myself in here and work as hard as I can so I can make her life easier one day. She's definitely an inspiration. We're struggling right now and I've got the opportunity to make us not struggle."
Which brings us back to the point of today's story. After all this -- the arrest, the suspension, the speculation, the apology, the harsh words and the aggro-tweeting -- it can still be a positive one.