Michigan State may be coming into March Madness as an unranked contender, but Spartans Head Coach Tom Izzo knows a thing or two about earning a tournament berth. While MSU had a preseason ranking of 18, the Spartans have had somewhat of a roller-coaster year.
But when you breakdown Sparty’s schedule and look at their 10 losses, most have come to ranked opponents, four were in overtime and all but two were by a deficit of seven points or less. And even with the ups and downs, Michigan State finished 23-11 record, 12-6 in the Big Ten and conference tournament runners-up to Wisconsin and earned a selection committee bid to be the No. 7 seed in the East region bracket.
And as his team prepares for the “journey to the tourney,” here’s what you need to know about Coach Izzo:
1. Izzo Is the Sixth Highest Paid NCAA Basketball Coach
In 1983, Izzo got his coaching start at Michigan State as an assistant under Jud Heathcote. This came after a year at the helm of Ishpeming High School and four years as an assistant at his alma mater – Northern Michigan.
Izzo continued learning and honing his craft under the direction of Heathcote until 1995. Following Heathcote’s retirement, Izzo took over the MSU program and has been leading the Spartans ever since.
During his tenure as head coach, Izzo, 60, has led Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season titles, four Big Ten Tournament Championships, 17 straight NCAA tournament berths, six Final Four appearances and the 2000 national championship.
He is also the longest serving active Big Ten men’s basketball coach and the highest paid in the conference. And overall, his $3,893,954 per year salary puts him as the No. 6 highest paid NCAA men’s basketball coach, according to Business Insider. Izzo falls behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Kansas’ Bill Self and Florida’s Billy Donovan.
2. Izzo Is Not a Hall of Fame Coach
Despite all of Izzo’s success both at the conference and NCAA Tournament level, he has yet to be named to the Basketball or Naismith Hall of Fame.
In addition to his previously mentioned accolades, Izzo is MSU’s all-time winningest coach and he’s one of five coaches in history with seven Big Ten titles. He’s also had the privilege of coaching seven All-Americans, two Academic All-Americans and 13 NBA Draft picks – six of which went in the first round.
And while he hasn’t been inducted into the hall of fame – yet – Izzo is an eight-time National Coach of the Year, three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and was a Henry Iba Award recipient and the Associated Press National Coach of the Year in 1998.
Izzo is known for his two mottos:
Players Play – Tough Players Win.
He doesn’t determine playing time, players do.
3. Izzo Has Turned Down Multiple NBA Coaching Offers During His Career
As Izzo continued to gain traction throughout his career, more and more people began to take notice – specifically at the professional level. Following the 2000 season where he led the Spartans to a national championship and 83 percent of his players who completed their eligibility left MSU with a degree, various NBA teams started knocking with offers. Izzo was pursued to be a head coach for teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Jersey Nets.
And the offers didn’t stop. Izzo’s three straight Final Four appearances from 1999 to 2001 is the third-longest of all time, and his six Final Four appearances in the years 1999–2010 were matched by no other team in college basketball. And after falling short of his second national title in 2009, he, again, drew attention.
In 2010, the Cavs came to Izzo with the opportunity to take over the program and possibly coach LeBron James. While Izzo thought about the offer for over a week, he finally approached MSU’s Board of Trustees to let them know he’s “a Spartan for life.”
4. Izzo Grew Up With Former NFL Coach Steve Mariucci as a Friend and College Roommate
Izzo has been a Michigan man all his life. He was born and raised in Iron Mountain, which is in the Upper Peninsula of the state, he attended and played ball at Northern Michigan and his three coaching positions in his career have been spent in Michigan.
While growing up in Iron Mountain, Izzo met his best friend Steve Mariucci. They both attended Iron Mountain High and were teammates on the football, basketball and track teams. Following graduation, Izzo and Mariucci not only took their talents to the collegiate level at Northern Michigan University, but were also roommates. Izzo was a guard for the Wildcats all four years and as a senior he set the school record for most minutes played and was named a Division II All-American.
After finishing college, both Izzo and Mariucci began their coaching careers. Similar to how Izzo worked his way up, Mariucci started at the collegiate level and eventually moved up to the NFL – he was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 1997-2002 and then the Detroit Lions from 2003-2005. After coaching, Mariucci became a contributing football analyst for the NFL Network.
5. Izzo’s First Date With His Wife Was a Michigan State Basketball Game
Apparently Izzo wanted to get his future wife Lupe Marinez acclimated to the lifestyle of a coach’s wife early. Like first date early.
Lupe, who is originally from Texas, grew up in East Lansing, Michigan. And it was there, at MSU, that she met Izzo and got a first-hand taste of what it’s like to be a coach’s wife. Lupe and Izzo’s first date was when he invited her to the Big Ten Championship game between Michigan State and Purdue, according to PlayerWives.com. And the kicker – Izzo was working as the assistant coach.
It didn’t turn Lupe away as the two tied the knot May of 1992. Two years after they got married, the couple welcomed their daughter Raquel to the world. A few years later, Lupe and Izzo adopted their son Steven, who is six years younger than his sister.
Like other coaches, Izzo is involved in charity work through organizations such as Coaches Vs. Cancer, Volunteers of America, Sparrow Hospital and the Jimmy “V” Foundation. Racquel is a sophomore communication major at MSU and Steven is 14 years old and can usually be spotted alongside his sister and mom during games.