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Former Jud assistant Jim Boylan on Izzo’s longevity

PHOTO: Tom Izzo has cut down many championship nets, but it’s not a number as great as the total of Big Ten coaches he has outlasted.


Many measuring sticks gauge Tom Izzo’s success. Here’s one beyond citing one national title, eight Final Fours, 10 Big Ten regular-season titles, six Big Ten tournament crowns and 624 victories:

53 and counting.

That’s how many Big Ten basketball coaches have come and gone since Izzo took over Michigan State’s program 26 years ago, the 1995-96 season.

“Amazing,” said Jim Boylan, a Michigan State assistant alongside Izzo (1986-89) under Jud Heathcote.

The total surprised Boylan, even though he understands the revolving door nature of coaching. He moved on from East Lansing as the head coach at New Hampshire prior to 26 years as an NBA assistant, including earning an NBA championship ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016) and two interim head coach stints in Chicago and Milwaukee.

“The first thing it says about Tom is he’s old,” said Boylan, who, like Izzo, is 66. “That’s No. 1, and No. 2 it’s an acknowledgement of his coaching skills and his people skills.”

The Big Ten’s revolving coaching door has settled after spinning out three more the past season: Penn State’s Patrick Chambers at the start and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino and Indiana’s Archie Miller at the end. Chambers resigned after an internal investigation found “inappropriate conduct.” Pitino and Miller were fired for not winning enough games.

“I never thought it would be a great move for him to go to the NBA.”

— Jim Boylan.

And 53 only dates to the first Big Ten seasons for coaches at Nebraska (2011-12) and both Maryland and Rutgers (2014-15).  If coaches at Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers are dated to Izzo’s first season, the number bumps to 61.

In other words, Izzo’s consistency and success have spared Spartan Nation a lot of basketball disappointment, even misery.

Jim Boylan with the Chicago Bulls.

How did he do it?

“Tom has an honest and sincere presence,” Boylan said. “So, when you meet him, right away you like him. When he’s recruiting, you feel like he’s on the up and up, he’s telling a parent the real deal about what their son can do in his program. You needed honesty and integrity at a high level to maintain a job at one school for a long time.”

Izzo has avoided the lulls after initial success that have befallen other Big Ten coaches. Bruce Weber took Illinois to the 2005 Final Four but was fired after missing the tournament for the third time in five years. Tom Crean had a Final Four on his resume at Marquette to land the Indiana job, but he was fired after missing the tournament for the second time in six years. Thad Matta led Ohio State to the 2007 Final Four but was under pressure to resign after missing the tournament two straight years.

Izzo has taken the Spartans to 23 straight NCAA bids (24 if the canceled 2020 tournament is counted) along with titles represented by the nets he has cut down. His success eventually drew NBA offers, but Izzo has resisted the temptress.

“I never thought it would be a great move for him to go to the NBA,” Boylan said.

Izzo turned down the Atlanta Hawks prior to the 2000-01 season and the Cavaliers before 2010-11. He has said he received other offers that didn’t become public. Boylan explained college coaches that jump to the NBA mistakenly believe they’ll enjoy the luxury of on only having to draw up X’s and O’s.

“College coaches are responsible for the conduct of their players,” Boylan said. “Anything that happens, you’re responsible. If something happens, you have to answer for why an 18- or 19-year-old kid is acting a certain way. You’re responsible 24/7 and that’s sometimes an impossible task. It wears on you.

“College coaches think, ‘Oh, the NBA is strictly coaching.’ That’s why you see guys jump and most of the time it ends in failure. In reality, in the NBA you have to put up with a lot of crap. It’s a players’ league. You have to navigate relationships but still be demanding. It’s a tough balancing act. In college, you have the final say. In the NBA, you don’t.”

When Izzo turned down Atlanta, the Hawks gave the job to Lon Kruger, who was then the head coach at Illinois. Kruger was fired three years later. Kruger returned to the college ranks at UNLV for seven seasons and retired last month after 10 more years at Oklahoma.

Kruger is one of only three coaches to take five teams to an NCAA tournament, but with NBA failure interrupting his college stops, how is he remembered? Is he from Oklahoma, UNLV, Illinois, Florida or Kansas State? And that’s not counting his first job, Pan American. He’s not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Izzo was enshrined 2016.

Izzo, who has been at Michigan State 38 seasons overall dating to his 12 as an a Heathcote assistant, has advanced from Yooper to whippersnapper to wunderkind to elder statesman.


The 53 coaches Izzo has outlasted:


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

NCAA trips: 14 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: six.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 4/2.

Final Four/national title: 1/0.


7 coaches: Bob Knight, 2000; Mike Davis, 2006; Kelvin Sampson, 2008/Dan Dakic finished 2008; Tom Crean, 2017; Archie Miller, 2021; new coach for 2021-22, Mike Woodson.

NCAA trips: 15 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: a current streak of four.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 4/1.

Final Four/national title: 1/0.


4 coaches: Tom Davis, Steve Alford, Todd Lickliter, Fran McCaffery, 11 seasons.

NCAA trips: 11 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: seven.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 1/0.

Final Four/national title: 0/0.


5 coaches: Steve Fisher, 1997; Brian Ellerbe, 2001; Tommy Amaker, 2007; John Beilein, 2019; Juwan Howard, two seasons

NCAA trips: 10 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: 10.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 7/4.

Final Four/national title: 2/0.


6 coaches: Clem Haskins, 1999; Don Monson, 2007/Jim Molarni finished 2007; Tubby Smith, 2013; Richard Pitino, 2021; new coach, Ben Johnson.

NCAA trips: 8 of 26. Longest Izzo era NCAA drought: five.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 2/1.

Final Fours/national title: 1/0.


4 coaches: Ricky Byrdsong, 1997; Kevin O’Neill, 2000; Bill Carmody, 2013; Chris Collins, eight seasons.

NCAA trips: 1 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: Northwestern’s only NCAA trip in school history was 2016-17. They have missed the past three tournaments, four of 2020 (8-23) is counted.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 0/0.

Final Four/national title: 0/0.


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

NCAA trips: 16 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: three, two times.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 6/4.

Final Four/national title: 3/0.

PENN STATE, joined Big 1992-93

4: Jerry Dunn, 2003; Ed DeChellis, 2011; Patrick Chambers, 2020; Jim Ferry, one season.

NCAA trips: 3 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo: Currently in second of two nine-year droughts.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 1/0.

Final Four/national title: 0/0.


2 coaches: Gene Keady, 2005; Matt Painter, 16 seasons.

NCAA trips: 18 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: three.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 8/1.

Final Four/national title: 0/0.


4 coaches: Dick Bennett, 2001/Brad Soderberg finished 2001; Bo Ryan, 2016/Greg Gard finished 2016; Greg Gard, five seasons.

NCAA trips: 17 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: three.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 10/4.

Final Four/national title: 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 coaches: Danny Nee, 2000; Barry Collier, 2006; Doc Sadler, 2012; Tim Miles, 2019; Fred Hoiberg, two seasons.

NCAA trips: 2 of 26. Longest NCAA drought Izzo era: 15.

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 0/0.

Final Four/national title: 0/0.

MARYLAND, joined 2014-15

2/1: Gary Williams, 2011; Mark Turgeson, 10 seasons.

NCAA trips: 18 of 26. Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: four.

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

Final Four/national title: 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, five seasons.

NCAA trips: 1 of 26: Longest NCAA drought during Izzo era: 28

Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight: 0/0.

Final Four/national title: 0/0

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Michigan State also has been spared ugly scandals that have stained six programs with a fired coach.

— 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.

— Penn State’s Pat Chambers, “inappropriate conduct.”

* * *


From Clem Haskins to Bo Ryan, seven coaches have taken a Big Ten school to a Final Four during the Izzo era. None are still coaching at their 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.

— Thad Matta Ohio State, 2007 and 2012 FFs: mutually agreed with school to resign for health reasons while program declined; 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.

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