It’s 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday in the summer and I am awoken by a humming outside of my house. The noise grows faint before stopping and then picks again. I peek out the window to see Coach Tom Izzo, dragging the beach to remove debris and smooth the sand on his four wheeler outside of my family’s home in Grand Haven, Michigan.
He didn’t stop there. He made his rounds, dragging the beach of three other neighbors while everyone else was sound asleep. This has been a daily routine during his “vacation” time up at his cottage over the summer and remains true to this day.
I wouldn’t have even known about Michigan State University or the Michigan State Basketball program if it wasn’t for the Izzo family moving next door to my family’s summer house over 14 years ago.
As the years passed by we became friends, and when it was time for me to make my decision on where to go to college, the coach next door offered to take my family and I to an MSU Football game and show us around Michigan State’s campus.
When I went for my “official visit,” Tom took the time to drive us all around East Lansing, pointing out the great spots to eat and shop. He even took us to a football game like he would a basketball recruit.
Even though he had real basketball stars that he was entertaining at the game that same weekend, he took time to come and sit with my family and make us feel welcome at the university. I didn’t have any basketball talent or anything to offer to him; I was just a 17-year-old girl, confused on where to go to college. He was willing to help guide me.
As fate would have it, I would end up choosing to go to school at Michigan State, where Tom stepped up again, offering me a job as a student secretary in the Men’s Basketball Office. Over the course of my four years there, Tom would oftentimes pull me aside to make sure that I felt welcome and comfortable. He did the same thing with countless other female secretaries that I worked with. It showed he really cared.
In a school of over 50,000 it was easy to get swallowed up and lost in the masses, but the family atmosphere in the basketball office made the adjustment of being away at college easier.
Going to basketball-related events and being invited to the Izzo family home is a common occurrence for the ladies who work as student secretaries. Even the women who work in the basketball office get the rare opportunity to go along with managers to huge games in the NCAA tournament. I was lucky enough to witness two Final Fours.
During my time there I saw Tom do countless things for the community and the Coaches vs. Cancer organization, including inviting an 8-year-old cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth, into the basketball family to make her final days really special. He also received the Dean Smith award in 2016 as a recognition of his humanitarian work off the court.
Though I graduated from Michigan State in 2010, I continue to see Tom doing kind acts for former student secretaries. Izzo and his wife Lupe were kind enough to offer their house for my wedding, allowing us to set up dinner tables in their yard. He’s helped another former secretary land her dream job in sports and another secretary land a coveted job with an NHL team. The list goes on and on.
This past summer, another former student secretary got married in California and a group of basketball secretaries decided to rent an Airbnb and go to the wedding. Tom’s wife, Lupe, joined us on the trip and when we got there she told us that Tom had taken care of paying for the Airbnb for us because of “all the hard work” we did for him during our time there. Eight years removed from working for him and Tom still let us know that he valued our time there. That means a lot.
Some of the best friends that I have to this day are the females that I worked with in that office, all of whom Izzo hired. In a recent group text message, we couldn’t help but share in the good times that we had during our time in the Michigan State Men’s basketball office, all because Tom gave us a shot.
All eight of us women could not think of a single bad thing to say about Tom over the countless years that we have known him. The only thing that was discussed was how much he’s given to us over the years, asking for nothing in return.
In the male-dominated industry of college athletics, Tom makes the women who work for him feel like they have a voice. We are always respected and valued in the workplace, no matter what. Tom never has an ego and always makes the women who work for him feel safe, even taking on the role of a father figure while we’re away at school.
What happened with Larry Nassar and the women whom he assaulted sickens me. I can’t even begin to imagine what those victims are feeling. But I also can’t help but want to share my story about Tom, who has given so much to those around him.
I could sit here all day and write about kind things that Izzo has done and continues to do for myself and the women that work in the basketball office, helping almost everyone land jobs after college, but if I did, this article would be over 10,000 words long.
I am a recipient of Tom Izzo’s kindness and know countless other women that he has worked with who feel the same as I do. All of the things he has done and continues to do for the women who work for him has been done out of pure kindness and generosity, not asking for anything in return. He doesn’t help us because he is in front of the cameras or because he wants to get something in return; he does it because he truly cares about us. And that says a lot about his character.
Shoutout to @BobBao for the best pic yet of the new Tom Izzo wax sculpture. It’s like trying to figure out who is the real Capt. Kirk. pic.twitter.com/qGkRS3EuJI — Chris Solari (@chrissolari) January 6, 2018
Behind the Hall of Famer who has led his team to seven Final Fours and one National Championship is a man who cares about women, but more importantly a man who cares about people. And that’s worth writing a story about.