Tom Izzo finally did it.
He finally uttered those three little words.
No, not those three little words—but these were even better.
“I’m a lifer.”
And with that, they ought to start building a fence around the Michigan State University campus.
On top of the fence should be a sign, in huge green letters on a white background: “NBA: KEEP OUT.”
Izzo, the MSU basketball coach who flirted with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers last week, not only told them no, he essentially told the entire NBA the same thing.
“I’m a lifer,” Izzo said at a press conference yesterday, “And damn proud of it.”
I wrote about the Izzo Watch last week and I was criticized for being mean spirited. Others—including MSU people—said that as much as it pained them to admit it, they agreed in principle with what I had to say.
Namely, that Tom Izzo had—to that point—failed to give the NBA any reason to keep his name off their phones’ speed dials. Until he did so, I wrote, we were likely to go through this kind of thing every couple of years, ad nauseam.
And who needs that?
Yesterday, Izzo officially barred the NBA from his coaching life.
“I’m a lifer.”
If his word has any merit—and we have no reason to believe that it doesn’t—then this confession of being a lifer at MSU should finally take Izzo’s name out of the rumor mill when future NBA coaching jobs open up.
If it doesn’t, then I’m back to where I was last week: shame on Tom Izzo.
Izzo is remaining at Michigan State because he’s happy there. Better than that—he’s content. There’s a difference, though it’s subtle.
Happy means it’s fun to go to work. Content means that you’ll never be in want of anything as long as you keep your butt firmly planted where it currently rests.
Izzo made the right decision and everyone knows it. Probably even Dan Gilbert, the hotshot, high-spending owner of the Cavs, knows it, in his heart.
Izzo’s trip to Cleveland last Thursday can now be described thusly: He came, he saw, he vacillated.
Typically, when a guy makes a trip to a city that’s courting him—when he visits that team’s facilities, meets its head honchos and takes a look at the roster—there’s a presser called forthwith to announce that guy’s hiring.
Izzo came back from Cleveland and clearly he wasn’t able to pull the trigger. He likely spent the weekend asking himself why.
The answer was wonderfully simple but maddeningly elusive.
Izzo couldn’t say yes to Cleveland because he couldn’t say no to Michigan State.
The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning got it all wrong. It wasn’t the first time.
Henning wrote the other day that Izzo’s taking so long to decide meant that his heart simply wasn’t all with MSU anymore. Henning went one step further: Izzo had taken so long, that he had gone beyond the point of no return; he couldn’t any longer stay at MSU and retain any sort of credibility.
Henning was 180 degrees wrong. Izzo took so long because his heart was at MSU. If it wasn’t, he’d have signed a deal with the Cavs last weekend, shortly after returning from his trip to Cleveland.
The decision was a double-edged sword—yes to Cleveland, no to East Lansing.
It was a whole lot easier to say yes than it was to say no.
Just after Izzo took the podium yesterday—before he really started talking in earnest—a couple players rushed the stage. They embraced him, individually.
The line of players kept coming. So did the hugs.
Izzo endearingly referred to a couple of the recent graduates as “has beens” as they took their turn paying homage to their coach with silent, heartfelt hugs.
It was a wonderful 30 seconds, give or take.
You think you’d ever see anything like that in the NBA if a coach announced he just signed a contract extension to stay?
Now reverse it for a moment.
If the presser was to announce Izzo was leaving, and then his players—EX-players—did the hugging procession, you might have had the first in-presser reversal in sports history.
For the look on Izzo’s face as his players spontaneously showed PDAs spoke a thousand words.
Izzo sparred with Henning for several delectable minutes yesterday, the coach’s face at times barely able to conceal his annoyance and disdain for Henning’s “you can’t stay NOW” column.
“Now THIS is more like the UP!” Izzo said to cheers, referring to his native Upper Peninsula’s way of duking it out, verbally, in public.
So Izzo stays, where he belongs. He fancies himself a Bobby Bowden, a Bo Schembechler, a Coach K, a Jim Boeheim. Izzo’s words. Guys who kept their rear ends in one place, despite other temptations.
“I have no desire to be a Paterno,” he said, referring to the octogenarian football coach at Penn State. “But I’m right there with those other guys.”
Izzo said those three little words. He finally said them. There should be no more NBA overtures.
I hear Phil Jackson might retire from the Lakers.
That makes me think of two little words.