We’ve reached the end of another college basketball season. And that means that Tom Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, is facing another round of questions about whether or not he will leave East Lansing for the NBA. He seems to have deflected the talk for another year with his recent comments. But we created a list of why this annual tradition of questioning him at the conclusion of every season should end. Here are the eight reasons why he will never leave the Michigan State. That is, until he retires from the game altogether.
8. His Roots In The State Of Michigan:
Izzo is a born and raised Michigander and hails from Iron Mountain. He played D-II college basketball at Northern Michigan University and roomed with fellow Michigan native Steve Mariucci. Izzo played guard and was named a D-II All-American in his senior season. He then took an assistant coaching job with Northern Michigan before becoming a young part-time assistant coach for Michigan State. Izzo briefly left the state of Michigan for two months to be an assistant coach for Tulsa University before coming back to Michigan State to be an assistant coach. He then replaced Jud Heathcote as the Spartans’ head coach in the 1995-96 season and has been there ever since.
As you can see, his roots in the state of Michigan run incredibly deep. Why would he build an entire life and career in Michigan just to bail and leave after building Michigan State into one of the top and most consistent programs in the nation?
7. His Love Of The Rivalries:
In the NBA, true rivalries between teams are rare and rivalries between coaches are even rarer. Izzo undoubtedly appreciates the continued rivalries he has with Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Michigan’s John Beilein, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and his former assistant coach – Indiana’s Tom Crean. These in-conference rivalries don’t just get the fans going, they get the coaches going. Imagine how empty Izzo would feel as his hypothetical NBA team spends an entire 82-game schedule facing no coaches that he has an extensive history with. That potential regret will keep Izzo in East Lansing until he decides that he’s had enough of coaching basketball.
Mike Garland, a former assistant coach for Michigan State, spoke on Izzo’s relationship with his biggest rival. “It’s just like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier,” Garland said of Izzo and Ryan’s rivalry. “You know, they fought, they went through a time period when they probably couldn’t stay in the same room with each other long enough for the lights to come on. But after a while, you gain a respect.”
6. His Relationship With The Program and City:
There might not be a coach in the nation more beloved by a community as much East Lansing loves Izzo. This is evidenced by Michigan State’s famed student section, the “Izzone,” being affectionately named after him. If you polled children from central Michigan about which sports figure they would most like to meet, odds are Izzo would be the top candidate in most circumstances.
Izzo is the Michigan State Spartans. Both his identity and the identity of the program are dependent on each other. In the NBA, he’d just be another head coach in a random city. Remember his emotional speech following the tragic passing of Lacey Holsworth? That’s what he means to his community.
5. His Current Salary:
Izzo is the fourth-highest paid coach in all of college basketball with a base salary of $3.2 million. And that salary inflated to $3.7 million with bonuses this year. Brad Stevens, who left Butler University to coach the Boston Celtics, received a salary of $3.6 million upon entering the NBA. That’s not exactly the type of raise that pulls someone away from a job that they absolutely love.
Could Izzo pull in a bit more that Stevens? It’s certainly possible; his resume is stronger than Stevens’. But then again, Stevens was considered a hot commodity because of his relative young age. Plus, is money really something that Izzo would look for at this stage of his career? He’s stashed more than enough of it away for many lifetimes by now.
4. His Knowledge Of History:
Not many successful college coaches have fared well in the NBA; Izzo knows this. Besides Larry Brown, no other coaches have had overwhelming success in both college basketball and in the NBA. Some absolutely great college coaches like John Calipari and Rick Pitino were bounced from the NBA without hesitation. Would Izzo risk being the next?
PJ Carlesimo may be the second most “successful” coach in terms of relative success in both the college ranks and in the NBA. That says it all. Not to mention, the average coaching tenure in the NBA is only 2.3 years. Izzo has the greatest job security in the world in his job in East Lansing and he is 59 years old. Why play with that sort of fire?
3. His Love Of Student-Athletes:
At the professional level, Izzo would be coaching paid players who are already molded into the type of basketball players that they will be. Izzo loves crafting young men into unselfish players and leaders more than he would ever admit. Izzo is often seen getting emotional and hugging his players during and after games. That is something that happens much less in the NBA with professional players. He gets to pick these players when they are teenagers, bring them into his program and mold them exactly how he sees fit.
There is no equal gratification in the professional game. In the NBA, there is less personal development, less unadulterated passion and subsequently less to be proud of when and if success does happen. This is not to say NBA coaches don’t feel satisfaction when winning at the professional level — it’s just a different feeling altogether. A feeling that Izzo has to know that he would definitely miss.
2. His Pursuit Of Becoming The Big Ten’s Winningest Coach:
Izzo has a real chance to become the winningest coach in the history of the Big Ten. Indiana’s Bob Knight holds the all-time mark with 662 wins as a Big Ten head coach. Purdue’s Gene Keady is in second place with 512 wins and Izzo sits in third with 468 victories. Izzo is about eight seasons away from surpassing Knight That is, if his Spartans continue to win as many games as they’ve averaged over the previous 15 years (roughly 25 per-year).
Doesn’t that sound better than being second or third all-time on the Big Ten history win list but then jumping to the NBA where success is not guaranteed?
1. His Legacy:
He could be one of the few all-time greats to be the head coach at just one school. Izzo has no shortage of accomplishments. He has led his Spartans to being ranked in the AP top-10 in 15 different seasons, he’s won seven conference championships, he’s been to six Final Fours and won a National Championship. The only thing he’s missing from being included with these famous coaches is the lifelong commitment to a single program.
If Izzo chooses to coach the Spartans for the rest of his career, he will forever be one of the few immortal coaches in Big Ten and NCAA history to have such longstanding success with one university. That legacy will stand the test of time.
So maybe we should stop speculating after every college basketball season if he’ll go pro and just let the man enjoy his off seasons in peace. Face it – he’s a Spartan and Michigander for life.