Tom Izzo Returns to Michigan State, Spurns Cavaliers
Surrounded by a jubilant team, who alternately hugged the coach and tousled his hair in boyish excitement on the way up and down from the stage, Izzo re-affirmed his commitment to Michigan State, thanking the administration for giving him the opportunity to explore the NBA offer.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime decision for me," Izzo said in a Tuesday night press conference. "But I looked at it as how many more offers do you get? I know lot of people say, 'Why would you want to leave?' Well, I didn't. I didn't want to leave."
"I'm gonna be a lifer ... and I'm damn proud of it."
Izzo, who has been the subject of NBA coaching rumors in the past, characterized the Cavaliers Job, which teased the possibility of coaching star LeBron James, as a "unique opportunity."
However, the uncertainty around James, who could become a free agent July 1, was a big factor in Izzo's decision to return, though the coach underscored it was not the only reason.
"[LeBron James] was one of the key factors, that's 100 percent true," Izzo Said. "If LeBron James had stayed, that doesn't mean I would've definitely been there. ... Was it big? Sure, [he's] one of the greatest players in the world.
"But it wasn't a coin flip. Michigan State is where I want to be. I wanted to look at the process and I apologize to Michigan State fans I must've offended. But they've gotten money's worth and will get money's worth. I'll make it up to them."
Izzo, 55, was first linked to the Cavaliers' job nine days ago. However, both Izzo and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert remained silent on the coach's decision, leading to a tense week for Michigan State fans. Spartan faithful even took to the streets Thursday night, as more than 400 gathered outside the Breslin Center in an attempt to retain their coach.
Monday, Izzo told a boy at his basketball camp that he had asked a "bad question" when he inquired about whether or not Izzo would return to the Spartans.
"The entire Michigan State community has been terrific," Izzo said. "I'm almost embarrassed by some of the acts of support, but I'm certainly touched."
Izzo described the experience as trying, but worth the trouble.
"I learned more in nine days than I did in 55 years," Izzo said he told his wife, Lupe, after opting to return to Michigan State.
The Michigan native said the relationships with current and former players and the uniqueness of his situation led him back to East Lansing, in addition to secondary motivators like winning another national championship
"When I needed those guys," Izzo said, referring to his former players and former Michigan State players in the NBA," I didn't call one guy first. They all called me. When Jason Richardson called one night, when Zach Randolph called, it hit home. When Cleaves and [Morris Peterson] called. ... That's the most exciting thing about this place."
Unlike recent college-to-NBA flops like Rick Pitino, Mike Montgomery and Tim Floyd, Izzo compared himself to longtime coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno, and opted to remain the big man on campus, rather than the bigger salary of the NBA. A source told the Associated Press last week that Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alumnus, had promised a contract worth $6 million per year, roughly double Izzo's current salary.
However, the appeal of being a college coaching icon won out.
"I tried to approach this decision in a rational manner," Izzo said, "but my heart was always at MSU."
The courtship of Izzo is something of a rite of spring for Michigan State fans, although the Cavaliers offer progressed further than others. The Associated Press reported the team would offer a four-to-five year deal with $6 million a year.
There were no hard feelings evident by the Michigan State administration or the jubilant response on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, despite better than a week of speculation.
"Tom's integral role and respect at MSU earned him the right to take the necessary time to reach his decision," Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon said. "Like others, I wanted the good news earlier, but the wait was worth it."
For Cleveland, Izzo's snub continues a disappointing summer which might reach a low point in July, if James opts to leave via free agency. The Cavaliers lost in the second round of the NBA playoffs to the Boston Celtics and fired coach Mike Brown in May.
Izzo is the most successful coach in Michigan State history. In 15 seasons, he's won one national title and taken his teams to six Final Fours in the last 12 years, a feat matched only by former UCLA coach John Wooden and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Izzo made it clear he's eager for at least one more championship and a chance to chase Duke's Coach K, who leads all active coaches with four national titles.
"That damn Krzyzewski guy keeps winning them," Izzo said "That motivates me to getting more. I like some of the things we've done, but as I tell my players, it's the last man standing. You're not judged by going to Final Fours."
The Spartans, who return much of last year's Final Four roster, should again be favorites for a national championship, along with Purdue and Krzyzewski's Blue Devils.
"We have a great team returning next year with incredibly high goals," Izzo said. "I've repeatedly said I have greater goals for our program and that remains unchanged. Tops on that list is becoming one of just seven schools with three or more NCAA Championships. I'm also driven to continue to raise the perception of our program to an elite level."