The University of Oregon reportedly is planning to offer Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo the largest contract in college basketball, according to a television report out of Eugene, Ore.
A source from the Oregon athletic department told television station KEZI in a report Sunday night that Nike
chairman Phil Knight, an Oregon alumnus, would help back the contract.
There's not much to say here; if Izzo wants the money, he'll go, as Phil Knight surely has the wherewithal to make him a far richer man than he ever would be coaching MSU. For now, color me skeptical. In the past ten years, Izzo has had any number of opportunities to cash in, and one way or another, none of them have ever come to fruition. In 2000, he turned down a 5-year, $15 million (an astronomical amount at the time) offer from the Atlanta Hawks; more recently, he was linked in 2008 with the Chicago Bulls' vacancy. At various times, there have been rumors that he was prepared to depart for Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, and probably plenty of others I'm forgetting at the moment. All of those schools would have broken the bank to get him.
The point is, if Izzo was in it purely for the money (or even if that was an overriding concern), he'd have been long gone by this point. Oregon can pay him a ton of money, but that's not a team that's going to be good immediately, and it's not a traditional basketball power. I'm not sure why this job is more attractive than the others he could have had, particularly since the money would have been comparable elsewhere. Furthermore, it's another college job, and the things that frustrate Izzo about the college game would be no less present on the west coast than they are in Mid-Michigan. This long-ish article from Steve Grinczel, written when Izzo was being considered for the Bulls job, sums up my feelings well:
According to the Yahoo! story, "Some believe he has grown restless in East Lansing." Well, if that's the case, it's not because he's got a problem with management. He works for one of his best friends in A.D. Mark Hollis, who some misguided souls think Izzo has aspirations of replacing some day – like that would ever happen. And, his relationship with president Lou Anna K. Simon couldn't be better. He's rebuilt the bridge to football, which he loves, and the relationship with Mark Dantonio and the football staff is something he enjoys immensely.
I do agree that Izzo has a general frustration with college basketball and many of the NCAA rules – the one restricting players to 20 hours of practice a week and no direct coaching contact during the off-season drive him batty – but unless there's another factor in play here, his so-called restlessness has nothing to do with the working conditions at MSU, in my opinion.
That's why I have maintained, based on my observations, that he wouldn't leave MSU for another college job regardless of stature. Sure, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina have incomparable tradition, but eventually it would be the same job, and he'd be an outsider, to boot. I still maintain that when he leaves MSU, it will either be for the NBA or a job in broadcasting.
The whole article is worth a read, as its points are no less relevant today. Of course, the other frustration is that, even if Izzo isn't really interested, if his past actions are any indication, he probably won't issue the outright denials that MSU fans would prefer--particularly on the eve of another Final Four appearance. (This very topic was the subject of my first-ever blog post, internet-eons ago.) When asked about the Bulls job two years ago, Izzo said this:
"I’m not counting out any (job openings) because you can’t," Izzo said. "College or pro.
"I go back and forth on (coaching in the NBA)," he continued. "I still think it’s the ultimate level. There is something about it. I look at it and say, ‘It’s a real challenge.’ But I love what I do too. I go down and look at what the Pistons (coaches) do in preparation and I think, ‘That’s insane.’
Other job offers--both rumored and actual--have elicited similar responses. To some degree, Izzo's forthrightness is admirable, but the members of the Final Four media circus are far more likely to read a non-denial as a unequivocal statement of interest than, say, the local media would during the regular season. Unless a flat denial occurs (doubtful), be prepared for this to be a dominant storyline this week. (Even if there are clear denials, it still might be. Thanks, Roy Williams.)
In any event, I don't think it's worth getting too worked up over at the moment, although the media frenzy that's sure to follow will make the story difficult to ignore. For now, let's close with this tweet from Andy Katz:
Don't get: Schools/media report MSU's Tom Izzo as a candidate. He's an icon at MSU, 6 Final Fours. He's going to go to Oregon? Please.