Gophers need to fill gap that Tubby partially filledRICK LUBBERS: In early 1991 the Central Michigan men’s basketball program needed a head coach, and the name atop seemingly everyone’s list was a young assistant coach at Michigan State.
By: Rick Lubbers, Duluth News Tribune
In early 1991 the Central Michigan men’s basketball program needed a head coach, and the name atop seemingly everyone’s list was a young assistant coach at Michigan State.
I was covering the Chippewas for the student newspaper at the time and called Izzo to gauge his
He politely replied that he was flattered by the
attention but wouldn’t be throwing his hat into the ring for the small Division I job up the road from East Lansing. He was happy at MSU and hoped to become its head coach once Jud Heathcote retired.
It was a brief conversation, but Izzo’s hoops enthusiasm and engaging personality oozed through the phone line. It wasn’t hard to imagine how seductive his recruiting pitch was and how difficult it would be for recruits to turn him down.
Four years later his patience was rewarded when Heathcote passed the torch to the Iron Mountain, Mich., native.
Michigan State could have chased a big name or made a sexy pick to replace Heathcote, but instead chose wisely to re-energize its program with a young, hungry assistant coach known for his dogged recruiting style and sapping every ounce of talent out of his players. He was heavily invested in the local community and seemed destined for a long stay, rather than packing his bags at the first big offer he received.
One national championship, six Final Four appearances and seven Big Ten Conference championships later, Izzo is the dean of Big Ten coaches and the best basketball coach this side of Coach K.
And he hasn’t lost his hunger.
Shortly after Michigan State defeated Memphis and advanced to the Sweet 16 last Saturday, Izzo hopped on a plane and flew to Minneapolis in time to see coveted recruit Tyus Jones lead Apple Valley to the Class AAAA championship. Izzo brought a Michigan State presence to Target Center and reminded one of the nation’s top junior point guards that he’d look great in green and white.
Now that’s tireless dedication.
And that’s the type of men’s basketball coach the Minnesota Gophers should target in the wake of the so-so Tubby Smith era. Forget about chasing after a big name (Tubby Smith) or the coaching flavor of the day (Dan Monson) to excite the fans. How did those two coaches work out for you, Gophers fans?
The Minnesota athletic department has fixated on sexy picks, not wise choices, to soothe boosters and generate ticket sales … only to face the wrath of the same fan base seasons later when those coaches failed.
The Gophers need to reverse that trend soon or face several seasons dwelling in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. Minnesota qualified for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament this year — and even won its first-round game — but it still lags far behind a handful of other Big Ten programs that win on a much more consistent basis.
Maybe even Illinois.
The next Gophers coach needs to close the gap that Tubby only partially filled.
And that’s going to require a much stronger recruiter, a game-savvy coach players work hard for, a stout disciplinarian who can deal with the inevitable foibles of leading young men, and someone loyal and invested in the school and state he serves.
While Gopher fans are clamoring for Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart (who agreed to a contract extension Wednesday to stay at VCU) or former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders (although he managed to achieve only marginal success with the Timberwolves), hopefully Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague —and his right-hand man Mike Ellis —will stay true to a system that has found head coaching jobs for many talented assistant coaches.
Thanks to something called Villa 7, there should be plenty of resumes to riffle through.
Ellis developed Villa 7, which, according to gophersports.com, is “a concept that brings the top men’s and women’s assistant college basketball coaches together with athletic directors for networking and career development. … more than 90 Villa 7 alums are now head coaches at the Division I level.”
Sounds like the perfect vehicle for Teague and Ellis to find a young up-and-coming assistant rather than chase a sexy pick or big name.
It worked for Michigan State nearly 20 years ago.
Tubby’s gone. It’s time to find an Izzo.
Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at email@example.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.