College basketball benefits most from Izzo's decision to stay
Izzo's college-over-NBA choice is a positive after a chaos-filled NCAA offseason
Izzo has become an Institutional coach, building a clean resume at one program
The Good Guy Award winner has forged a signature style that fits the Big Ten
Tom Izzo may have taken his time making up his mind, but there was no muddle in his announcement that he'll give the NBA a miss and remain as Michigan State's coach.
Unlike Billy Donovan and his excruciating Hamlet routine, Izzo left no doubt about his decision to remain in East Lansing.
"I'm pleased to say that I'm here for life at Michigan State," he declared on Tuesday.
The Cleveland Cavaliers would seem to be the great losers, and the Spartans the great winners, in the endgame of this melodrama -- aside, that is, from Izzo himself, if he's as convinced as he sounds of the wisdom of his choice.
To my mind, however, college basketball is the biggest beneficiary. The sport has descended into chaos since Duke and Butler staged their final for the ages 10 weeks ago. First came the usual springtime exodus of the one-and-done crowd. Then UConn and USC were cited for their compliance issues. Whereupon the game, powerless in the face of conference realignment driven by football, has had to wait on the fates of scores of its major programs.
With its multiple and perennial upheavals, the college hoops relies more and more on its fixed points, the coaches who at least hint at the constancy and stature of the man who died only days ago, John Wooden. Guys like John Calipari, Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino don't count. They're job-hoppers, often one step ahead of the posse, and we're never sure of the college campus (or restaurant floor) on which they'll next alight. In contrast to what we might call the Rogues, the sport is more and more dependent for its stability on the Institutionals -- coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Gary Williams, or even Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun, who despite not leading spotless programs are comfortable stakes in the ground that casual fans can navigate by.
In his emotional press conference on Tuesday evening, Izzo fondly invoked Coach K and Boeheim, along with Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Dean Smith and Tom Osborne.
"Guys that kind of withstood the test of time," Izzo said, stating his desire to follow in their footsteps. "Guys who were tempted by different things but decided their heart is where it is."
Over the past dozen years Izzo has quietly become an Institutional. His Spartans have strung together 13 straight NCAA appearances, six of them culminating in Final Fours and one in a national title. His program has never found itself on probation. He has forged a signature style, basketball in pads, that befits the conference in which his team plays and his lifelong friendship with Steve Mariucci. The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has honored him with its Good Guy Award for his geniality and accessibility. His anguished expressions of disappointment are worthy of Jud Heathcote, the man he apprenticed under, then replaced, and has now surpassed on the all-time victory list. And the contrasting cutaway shots of his serene wife, Lupe, are March Madness staples.
Now comes news that all of it remains intact.
"I'm gonna be a lifer," Izzo said. "This is what I'm gonna be. And damn proud of it."
A good thing, for his departure would have been as punishing as the whack a Spartan gets from a student manager during Michigan State's notorious War Drill. As much as the Spartans are glad they were spared that blow, I'm glad the sport was too.
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