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Tom Izzo: Not Eternally Extant

Promise us you'll never get old.
Promise us you'll never get old.

We briefly interrupt this week of massive football buildup to bring you this speculative non sequitur. Jim Calhoun retired today. This made me contemplate the question of how much longer we can expect our guy to stay on the sidelines. And that, of course, made me pull some data.

Calhoun is 70 years old. That's a pretty late retirement date for a coach who's had sustained success at the national level. Here's a (somewhat subjective) list of retirement ages for coaches who have had a high level of success at the national level over the last 30 years and retired more or less voluntarily from their final head coaching job:

Coach Age Seasons at School Total Seasons
Lute Olson 73 25 39
Jim Calhoun 70 26 40
Bob Knight 67 7 42
Jud Heathcote 67 19 24
Dean Smith 66 36 36
Gary Williams 66 22 33
Denny Crum 64 31 31
Rick Majerus 64 5 25
John Thompson 57 27 27

(Technical: Number of seasons includes only seasons as a college head coach.)

The median age there is 66. Coaching major college basketball is a fairly full-time, high-energy activity. Guys who have made it into their 70's tend have either coached at lower profile schools or bounced around quite a bit (Eddie Sutton, Larry Brown, etc.).

Here's a similar table for active coaches over the age of 50. The first two guys listed look like they'll beat the curve for retirement age, but they're also two guys who generally appear to emit lower amounts of energy than Tom Izzo does. (Note: Feel free to retire at any time, Mr. Ryan. You've done enough.)

Coach Age Seasons at School Total Seasons
Jim Boeheim 67 36 36
Mike Krzyzewski 65 32 37
Bo Ryan 64 11 28
Roy Williams 62 10 25
Tubby Smith 61 5 21
Rick Pitino 59 11 33
Bob Huggins 58 5 29
Tom Izzo 57 17 17
John Calipari 53 3 23

(Technical: Includes NBA seasons for Pitino/Calipari.)

Tom Izzo is now 57. If he retired at 66, that'd be nine more seasons. That may seem like a lot, but nine years ago Paul Davis was playing basketball for MSU as a freshman. That doesn't seem that long ago, does it? (Maybe I'm just getting old.) Or look at it another way: nine seasons is barely more than 50% of 17 seasons of the Izzo-ness we've already enjoyed.

The numbers suggest Izzo could hang on longer since he came to the head coach's chair a little later in life. But he's also made rumblings in the past about retiring earlier than the typical college basketball coach. If that comes on the heels of winning another national championship, we can probably deal with it. But there are no guarantees that whoever comes next will be able to sustain the level of success we've gotten used to over the last 15 years. This past season, which qualifies as good-but-not-great season by Izzo standards would have basically been tied for the 5th best season in the program's entire history pre-Izzo (1979, 1957, 1978, 1959, 1990t).

We once frantically went through the exercise of thinking about potential Izzo successors. It wasn't fun. (The hiring of Dane Fife since then creates a nice potential successor-in-waiting scenario, though). Even a very successful replacement is very unlikely to get you to a Final Four 40 percent of the time.

Anyway, this post serves no other purpose really than to say, when basketball season rolls around again (midnight madness is now less than one month way, believe it or not), don't take the presence of an all-time great on the sidelines at Breslin for granted. All-time greats, by definition, don't come around regularly. And they can't stay forever.