Tom Izzo deserves a place among the bestWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | email@example.com
A few weeks ago, I was watching one of my favorite television shows on HBO, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” The former NBC/CBS newsman produces a monthly show with a band of colleagues that prides itself on taking a more serious look at sports in society.
The show featured a segment on Michigan State men’s head basketball coach Tom Izzo. At the end of the piece the reporter, Jon Frankel, sat down with Gumbel to provide a postscript to the story, which is a customary part of the show.
The question posed by Gumbel to Frankel was what Izzo has left to achieve at Michigan State with such an impressive resume to his name. To paraphrase Frankel’s response, Izzo still has yet to be considered part of the fraternity of the coaching elite, such as UCLA’s legendary John Wooden or Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
The answer struck me as odd, because quite honestly, the fact that Izzo’s name is not considered part of the crème de la crème of college basketball coaches is downright puzzling.
When Izzo began coaching in East Lansing, he inherited a proud basketball program that was looking to replace legendary coach Jud Heathcote, who coached Magic Johnson and the Spartans to a national title in 1979.
Izzo has done quite well in his 15 years at Michigan State. He has assembled an overall record of 363-145, which for math majors is an average 24 wins per season.
He has won one national championship (2000), made six Final Four appearances over the last 12 years, and the Spartans haven’t missed the NCAA tournament since the 1996-1997 season, Izzo’s second as head coach. He also has six conference titles to his name, and has been named national coach of the year once and Big Ten coach of the year twice.
He’s coached four Big Ten player of the year winners, 13 players who have been selected to the All Big Ten first or second team, and had 11 players selected during the NBA draft. He has also had seven former assistant coaches go on to be head coaches at the NCAA Division I level, including former UT head coach Stan Joplin.
It’s easy to see that the numbers supporting his case are quite staggering.
But it’s not just the numbers that set Tom Izzo apart to me. It is that Izzo has been able to get his teams to overachieve, even when many college basketball experts counted the Spartans out.
It was Izzo’s Spartans, who were a two seed in the tournament in 2009, who carried the city of Detroit on its back on a magical run to the championship game, which resulted in a loss to North Carolina. The Motor City, whose financial hardship has been front page news since the collapse of the manufacturing and auto industries, was provided a welcomed distraction, as the city played host to the tournament. It even seemed like everyone in the “Big D” became a converted Spartans fan.
Perhaps though, this season has been Izzo’s toughest at the helm at Michigan State. A team, that had several star players like 2009 Big Ten POY Kalin Lucas returning, appeared inconsistent at times, and many felt would fall short of challenging for a national championship.
The injury bug bit the Spartans too. Spartans sophomore forward Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus, junior guard Chris Allen has been playing with an ailing foot, and the aforementioned Lucas tore his Achilles tendon during Michigan State’s second round game against Maryland.
With so many strikes against the Spartans, how could they possibly get back to the Final Four?
But like he always has, Izzo found a way to win, riding the backs of senior forward Raymar Morgan, junior guard Durrell Summers, and sophomore guard Korie Lucious.
No one knows what will happen April 3 when the Spartans take on Butler. But no matter what, one can rest assured that the Spartans will be ready to play. Regardless of the outcome of the Final Four game, Izzo should be considered an elite coach.
The Spartans’ improbable run in the tournament proves it, but there is one title above all others that Izzo wants more than any other: NCAA National Champions.
Chris Schmidbauer is the sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. He can be heard every Tuesday at 11 AM on the Odd Couple Sports Show on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.