Tom Izzo is being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Deservedly so. The Michigan State Spartans’ coach is arguably one of the very best college basketball coaches in the history of the sport.
Where he lands on a fictional college coach power rankings scale is relatively unimportant. When coaches reach a level of greatness that puts them into any hall of fame, trying to separate all-time greats from other all-time greats requires a fine-toothed-comb parsing of accomplishments.
Izzo’s accolades are abundant: 524 career wins (.719 winning percentage), AP College Coach of the Year (1998), Henry Iba Award (1998), two-time NABC Coach of the Year (2001, 2012), and three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (1998, 2009, 2012). He has received nearly every major award a college coach can receive.
There’s even more to his success than individual shine.
Izzo has taken Michigan State to a large amount of Final Fours — seven of them, in fact (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). He also led the Spartans to seven Big Ten regular season titles, (1998–2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), and he’s won the Big Ten Tournament five more times (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014, 2016).
Oh, did I forget to mention he won the NCAA Tournament in 2000?
Not too shabby for a guy who played his college ball for Northern Michigan, and got his first coaching start with Ishpeming (a high school in Michigan).
There are many other reasons to celebrate the coach. From a style of play his team consistently represents — toughness, rebounding savvy, and defensive dreadnoughts — to the fact he’s currently the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten, there are very few flaws in his resume.
To highlight how insanely successful Izzo has been, simply look at the lack of modern-day praise Jud Heathcote receives.
Heathcote was Izzo-lite before Izzo was even, well, Izzo. Having coached the Spartans from 1976-1995, Heathcote recruited Magic Johnson, won three Big Ten titles, and managed to snag the program’s first national title in 1979.
Yet, in 2016, Heathcote is barely a footnote in Michigan State’s history. Sure, the die-hards realize he put the Spartans on the map — and had the foresight to elevate Izzo through his own staff, enabling his assistant to become his successor. However, a man who would otherwise be this program’s version of Lou Carnesecca or John Wooden (to a lesser degree, obviously), has to play second-fiddle to one of his own assistants.
We can go on and on discussing Izzo’s successes. They are as wide as they are varying. Yet, we would only begin to scratch the surface of his impact on the sport.
Dubbed as “Mr. March,” the coach’s well-known hardwood wins are obviously the most important, but what he has done off it can’t be lost in the shuffle, either.
Izzo is one of the few name-brand, big-boy program coaches who isn’t afraid to attach his name to a way of thinking. Whether we agree with his beliefs or not, it has forever been admirable that Izzo is willing to speak his mind on several subjects — even if it is the sort of topic that could directly, or sometimes indirectly, hurt his program or the idea of his legacy.
Yet, that is the man in a nutshell.
While many other college coaches try to brand themselves, to put themselves in a position which would shine the most positive light on their careers and images, Izzo does not care — not one bit — about playing that game.
The best part of this entire celebration? This isn’t over.
Yes. Izzo is being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, the pinnacle of individual success in college basketball, but he’s not even done doing his thing.
Only 61 years old, his thing is to be an ambassador of the sport, as he leads his program to dominating season after dominating season, all while spitting in the face in the idea that the face of a basketball program needs to fit a cookie-cutter mold.
Congratulations, Tom Izzo. Luckily for Michigan State fans, you deserve this top honor.