Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo has come a long way.
He used to be an assistant coach under one Jud Heathcoate, a coach who was victorious in the infamous 1979 NCAA championship game in which Earvin “Magic” Johnson defeated Indiana State’s Larry Bird.
After seeing the nuances of the game in a different light, Izzo became Heathcoate’s successor. He was young, determined and still had some of his vocal cords remaining.
It did not take long for Izzo to establish his presence on the huge campus when he started in 1995.
He took the program and the nation by storm. His achievements as the Spartans’ coach include five regular-season Big Ten championships, two Big Ten Tournament titles, five NCAA Final Four appearances and one national championship in 2000. His five Final Four appearances in 10 years were not matched by any other team in the nation—and he graduates over 80 percent of his players.
But since Izzo stepped into the starring role at Michigan State, he has always been associated with Heathcoate, and rightfully so. Izzo was his successor, his guinea pig when it came to learning the subtleties of being a head coach at a big Division-I program.
Now, fifteen years later, Izzo has surpassed his mentor in victories as well.
With Michigan State’s 106-68 win over Massachusetts on Saturday, Izzo achieved his 341st victory—the most in school history. And while Izzo owed plenty of gratitude to Heathcoate after the game, he deserves all the praise he has gotten throughout his tenure and then some.
He has made MSU the perennial power in the Big Ten. His toughness and stressing of defense and rebounding is unparalleled by most coaches in the country. The school’s student section—The Izzone—just goes to show how much the university and its students appreciate the man.
And the great thing for Spartan fans everywhere is that Izzo is still relatively young and has many good years left ahead of him. His team is currently ranked as the number two team in the country, and besides a misstep against Florida, they have all the talent to go back to the national championship for a second straight year.
Izzo’s god-like status in East Lansing did not occur overnight, but one thing is for certain: it will not go away any time soon.