Izzo Era in Big Ten hoop outlasts another coach
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Izzo Era in Big Ten hoop outlasts another coach

Another number to measure his legacy is 50 conference coaches have come and gone

Photo: 1) Michigan State celebrates 2020 Big Ten title; Izzo and John Beilein (L)

50 … and counting.

That’s how many Big Ten basketball coaches Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has outlasted since he was promoted to succeed his mentor, Jud Heathcote, as the Spartans’ head coach in the 1995-96 season. The number increased by one this past season, even though all 14 Big Ten basketball coaches are expected back next season, having survived the ax that usually swings this time of year.

Former Michigan coach John Bielein’s surprise decision on May 14 bumped the total another click on the coaching odometer. Beilein jumped from the Wolverines to the NBA, although eventually the Cleveland Cavaliers forced him to step down after 54 games.

That averages to 4.5 coaches per school based on 11 members when Izzo was hired. The number is 58 with an average of 4.2 based on the current total of 14 schools with the additions of Nebraska (2011-12) along with Maryland Nebraska (2014-15).

Instead of Michigan State having gone through the average number of coaches the past 25 years, the Izzo Era that includes one national title, seven Final Four trips, nine Elite Eights, 14 Sweet Sixteens, 10 Big Ten regular-season titles, six conference tournament titles, 22 straight NCAA trips, 626 victories and his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Not a bad record for a guy from Iron Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He’s gone from a Yooper to a whippersnapper assistant to a rising star head coach and, now, to elder statesman.

Adding up Izzo’s latest career numbers are a little muddled by the NCAA’s decision to cancel March Madness due to the coronavirus pandemic since this would have been the Spartans' 23rd straight NCAA trip for a team ranked No. 9 with a 22-9 record. The only longer streaks are Kansas (30), North Carolina (27) and Duke (24); the only longer active streaks are Kansas and Duke.

Beilein’s departure from Michigan and dismissal from the Cavaliers includes some Izzo irony.

In 2010, Izzo was courted for two weeks by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alumnus, until he remained with the Spartans.

Izzo is a good coach, obviously, but the Cavs job was doomed for anyone in 2010. LeBron James bolted to Miami later in the summer. Byron Scott was an NBA veteran coach, but he lasted only three seasons. Beilein’s replacement, J.B. Bickerstaff, is the seventh Cavs coach since Izzo turned down the job.

There’s another number: 7.

But another person that deserves an assist for Izzo’s longevity is his daughter Racquel.

In 2001, when the Atlanta Hawks offered Izzo their job after Izzo’s third straight Final Four season, not uprooting his grade-school daughter from her school and friends was a main reason for remaining with the Spartans. Izzo later told a story that when he told his daughter if he took the job she’d make new friends in Atlanta, she replied they’d be her friends only because of he is the Hawks’ coach. That resonated with Izzo, the tug of a father outweighing the ambitions of a coach.

Once Izzo turned down the job, Lon Kruger left Illinois for Atlanta. He lasted three seasons before he was fired. He’s on his third job since then after one year as a New York Knicks assistant, seven at UNLV and the past nine at Oklahoma.

Without Raquel’s youthful wisdom keeping Izzo in East Lansing, who knows what coach Michigan State would be on by now.

Here are the Big Ten schools and the coaches they’ve been through in the Izzo Era.


7: Lou Henson, 1996; Lon Kruger, 2000; Bill Self, 2003; Bruce Weber, 2012; John Groce, 2017/Jamal Walker finished 2017; Brad Underwood, third season.

NCAA trips: 13 of 24. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: six and counting.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 4/2.

Final Fours/national titles: 1/0.


6: Bob Knight, 2000; Mike Davis, 2006; Kelvin Sampson, 2008/Dan Dakich finished 2008; Tom Crean, 2017; Archie Miller, thirdd season.

NCAA trips: 15 of 24. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: three, with this the second time and counting.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 4/1.

Final Fours/national titles: 1/0.


4: Tom Davis, Steve Alford, Todd Lickliter, Fran McCaffery, 10th season.

NCAA trips: 10 of 24. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: seven.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 1/0.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0.


5: Steve Fisher, 1997; Brian Ellerbe, 2001; Tommy Amaker, 2007; John Beilein, 2019; Juwan Howard, first season.

NCAA trips: 10 of 24. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: 10.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 5/3.

Final Fours/national champion: 2/0.


5: Clem Haskins, 1999; Don Monson, 2007/Jim Molarni finished 2007; Tubby Smith, 2013; Richard Pitino, seventh season.

NCAA trips: 8 of 24. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought: five.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 3/2.

Final Fours/national titles: 1/0.


4: Ricky Byrdsong, 1997; Kevin O’Neill, 2000; Bill Carmody, 2013; Chris Collins, seventh season.

NCAA trips: 1 of 24. Longest Izz era NCAA drought: Northwestern is in a two-year drought since the Wildcats made the 2016-17 NCAA field for the first time in program history.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 0/0.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0.


4: Randy Ayers, 1997; Jim O’Brien, 2004; Thad Matta, 2017; Chris Holmann, third season.

NCAA trips: 15 of 24. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought : three, two times.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 6/4.

Final Fours/NCAA runner-up/national titles: 3/0.

PENN STATE, joined Big 1992-93

3: Jerry Dunn, 2003; Ed DeChellis, 2011; Patrick Chambers, ninth season.

NCAA trips: 3 of 24. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought: nine, with a current streak of eight.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 1/0.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0.


2: Gene Keady, 2005; Matt Painter, 15th season.

NCAA trips: 17 of 24. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought: three.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 8/1.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0.


4: Dick Bennett, 2001/Brad Soderberg finished 2001; Bo Ryan, 2016/Greg Gard finished 2016; Greg Gard, fourth season.

NCAA trips: 17 of 24. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought: three.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 10/4.

Final Fours/national titles: 3/0.

Three recent Big Ten additions, with two numbers listed. They represent the school’s overall coaches during Izzo’s 24 seasons and the second since coaches Izzo faced as Big Ten members.

NEBRASKA, joined Big Ten 2011-12

5/3: Danny Nee, 2000; Barry Collier, 2006; Doc Sadler, 2012; Tim Miles, seventh season (four over Izzo’s tenure, but only two coaches since joining Big Ten); Fred Hoiberg, first season.

NCAA trips: 2 of 24. Longest drought during Izzo era: 15.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 0/0.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0.

MARYLAND, joined 2014-15

2/1: Gary Williams, 2011; Mark Turgeson, ninth season (two coaches during the Izzo era but only one coach since joining Big Ten.)

NCAA trips: 16 of 24. Longest NCAA drought since Izzo: four.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 6 (only one as Big Ten member)/2 (none as Big Ten member).

Final Fours/national titles: 2/1 (both as an ACC member).

RUTGERS, joined Big Ten 2014-15

7/2: Bob Wenzel, 1997; Kevin Bannon, 2001; Gary Waters, 2006; Fred Hill, 2010; Mike Rice, 2013; Eddie Jordan, 2016; Steve Pikiell, fourth season.

NCAA trips: none of 24: Longest Izzo era NCAA drought since Izzo: All 24 of Izzo’s years in streak that has now reached 28 overall.

Sweet Sixteens/Elite Eights: 0/0.

Final Fours/national titles: 0/0

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Michigan State also has been spared ugly scandals that have stained schools with five coaches fired.

--- Michigan, Steve Fisher, impermissible benefits, 1997.

--- Minnesota, Clem Haskins, academic fraud, 1999.

--- Indiana’s Bob Knight, abusive behavior toward athletes, 2000.

--- Ohio State’s Jim O’Brien, impermissible benefits, 2004.

--- Indiana’s Kelvin Sampson, recruiting violations, 2008.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told me this about Izzo earlier in the season when I asked him about Izzo emerging with his reputation intact from an ESPN story that attempted to conflate the basketball program with the scandal involving Larry Nassar, a USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor.

 “He is one of the best guys I’ve known in coaching. If anybody is doing things the absolute the right way, I believe it’s him – and I still do. I haven’t been proven wrong yet. I go on faith, and I think he’s a great guy, great coach and a man of absolute integrity – 100 percent. He had a very, very tough experience.”



From Clem Haskins to Bo Ryan, seven coaches have taken a Big Ten school to a Final Four during the Izzo era. Only one, Michigan’s John Beilein (2013 and 2018) is still coaching at the same school.

--- Clem Haskins (Minnesota), 1997 FF: fired 1999, out of coaching.

--- Jim O’Brien (Ohio State), 1999 FF: fired, 2004; out of coaching.

--- Mike Davis (Indiana), 2002 FF: resigned under pressure, 2006; third head coaching job since then and now at Detroit Mercy.

--- Bruce Weber (Illinois), 2005 FF: fired, 2012; head coach at Kansas State past seven years.

--- Thad Matta Ohio State, 2007 and 2012 FFs: mutually agreed with school to resign for health reasons and program’s declining success; out of coaching.

--- Dick Bennett, Wisconsin, 2000 FF: retired three games into 2000-01 season; later coached at Washington State but now out of coaching.

--- Bo Ryan, Wisconsin, 2004 and 2015 FFs: retired 12 games into 2015-16 season; has remained retired.


A quarter-century later, the only bigger names out there are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (five NCAA titles) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (three NCAA titles). And Williams and North Carolina finished the past year with a losing record (14-19).

Izzo’s first season finished 16-16, but he has never suffered a losing record.

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I invite you to follMichigow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu

-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.



Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation. 






David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”




Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and Chargers.com. He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer, MLB.com, Rivals.com and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."