Earlier this week, there were reports that Tom Izzo, coach of the Michigan State University Spartans would leave to open the new Matthew Knight arena at the University of Oregon. The man who had lead the Spartans since 1995, never missing a post-season tournament in the process, would open up their new arena, paid for by alumnus and Nike founder Phil Knight, and return their team to former glory.
But, as the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.” Izzo denied that he had been contacted and confirmed his commitment to the Spartans. “I’m happy with the job that I have,” Izzo said.
Izzo is Michigan State through and through. Born January 30, 1955 in Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo is a proud “UPER” (a resident of the upper peninsula region of the state) and Spartan. Izzo was a standout athlete in Iron Mountain and attended Northern Michigan University where he set a school record for minutes played and also was named a Divison II All American. Izzo was also named the team’s most valuable player in 1977.
Izzo would make his first foray into coaching at Ishperming High School. Izzo would then return to his ala mater as an assistant coach and stay from 1979 to 1983. Then, foreshadowing what would later come, Izzo became the assistant coach at Michigan State University part-time in 1983. This came after Izzo’s longest coach tenure outside of his home state: a two month assistant coaching post at the University of Tulsa. At last Izzo was named the head coach at MSU after the retirement of Jud Heathcote in 1995. Since being named to the position, the Spartans has never finished below .500 and have never missed a postseason tournament. In the process Izzo has been named the Associated Press National Coach of the Year once and Big Ten Coach of the year twice.
Izzo’s lone national championship came in 1999-2000 season by beating the University of Florida. With All- American Mateen Cleeves leading the way the Spartans ran the table. Cleeves eventually was named the most outstanding player of the tournament. Such guard play has been a trademark during Izzo’s tenure at MSU. Other top guards who have played under Izzo are Jason Richardson, Alan Anderson, Shannon Brown and current guard Kalin Lucas, voted into the First- Team All Big Ten, after winning the Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Channeling from his iron man past as a player who earned major minutes on the floor, Izzo stated that his team will “play anybody, anyplace, anytime. It doesn’t matter, morning, noon or night, and it doesn’t matter who it is.” He also has accepted the philosophy that he doesn’t determine playing time. Players do. Izzo also stresses that his team, not only play, but also play tough. Izzo is quoted saying that “players play- tough players win.”
Off the court Izzo is an entertaining fundraiser, to say the least. Over the past two years Izzo has participated in such fundraising activities as performing on stage in a production of his own review “Izzo goes to Broadway,” shooting free throws against Bruce Weber (head coach at the University of Illinois) and by hosting charity golf events with former NFL head coach Steve Mariucchi. According to the MSU website, Izzo has been awarded the Coaches against Cancer Champion award, for his work with the Jimmy V foundation.
Izzo has also gained a cult following large enough to be interviewed by Will Ferrell (as his character from the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, journalist Ron Burgundy.) Izzo, on more then one occasion has announced the starting lineups for the Spartan Football team during nationally televised games.
There has also been talk about Izzo leading the Spartan Football team as well. Currently, while running drills with the basketball team, Izzo, reportedly, runs rebounding drills with his players putting on shoulder pads and helmets.Current University of Alabama football coach, Nick Saban doesn’t think the idea is too far out of the question. “Let’s get this straight, Tom Izzo is a football coach who coaches basketball,” Saban said in a New York Times feature about Izzo. Former Izzo assistant and current coach at the University of Indiana, Tom Crean agrees in the same feature. “I’m telling you that if you give him a few good coordinators and a post in a B.C.S. bowl, he’d be right in there, too,” Crean said.
Aside from having fun, Izzo has participated in Operation Hardwood in both 2005 and 2006. This event was a tournament where Izzo, and coaches Tubby Smith (then at the University of Kentucky), Gary Williams (University of Maryland) and Rick Barnes(University of Texas) traveled to Kuwait to coach teams of United States servicemen. It is worth noting that Izzo’s team won the competition in 2005.
Izzo was also the head coach of the United States’ team during the 2003 Pan American Games and won a silver medal.
With consistency of success that Izzo has achieved for the Spartans, inevitably there are seasonal rumors that he is set to fill high profile head coaching vacancies in both the NCAA and NBA. Over the past ten years Izzo has been linked to high profile opening at the University of Kentucky, as well as, the Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets and the Atlanta Hawks. Along with the current rumors that Izzo would be going to Oregon, there is also speculation that he would oust the University’s of Kentucky’s head coach John Calipari, as the highest paid college basketball coach in the country. Michael Caples, contributing to the Fox Sports Detroit website put it best “Izzo won’t leave to chase the money. To start, MSU will take care of him financially in any way necessary. But even more important, he is too driven to succeed in East Lansing, both on and off the court.”
Izzo made it to this year’s Final Four and would be a safe bet to return to the stage next season. There is no doubt he will do it in Spartan Green.