Tom Izzo, Spartan for 'life'

If Tom Izzo was ever going to break for the NBA, this would have been the time. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

And so every Michigan State fan's long regional nightmare is over. The Izzo abides.

The Spartans' public relations team announced Tom Izzo's decision to stay in East Lansing Tuesday night, scheduling a press conference and including a statement from Izzo that contained 12 words that surely caused an outbreak of joy-induced head explosions (note: may not be an actual medical condition) all over the state of Michigan.

"I’m pleased to say I am here for life at Michigan State," Izzo said.

Thing is, Izzo didn't even need to say it. His decision already did.

If ever Izzo was going to make a jump to the NBA, now was the time. He had a lifetime of riches on the table. He had a supportive fanboy boss in Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alum. He had a better than average chance -- even if LeBron James refused to commit to the idea -- to coach the NBA's best player on one of the NBA's best teams. He could have foregone the typical college-to-NBA stepping stone so many coaches before him have taken, avoiding also-rans and cellar-dwellers and taking over an immediate NBA title contender.

And he turned it all down.

The quote is nice, but the decision says it all. Tom Izzo wants to be a college coach. He wants to do that coaching at Michigan State. And he wants to do so until he retires.

Of course, it isn't quite that simple. Izzo considered this job too seriously for it to be dismissed as a mere dalliance, or a wandering eye. Izzo was on the brink. Throughout his deliberation, reports from unnamed sources close to the coach revealed that he'd grown weary of the demands placed on college hoops coaches. He'd gotten tired of the recruiting rat race. He was sick of the year-round schedule. According to friends, he was concerned -- "concerned" is putting it politely; "fed up" is probably more accurate -- about what he saw as the increased amount of cheating happening in the sport.

The NBA was a way out. In the NBA, you don't have to kowtow to AAU runners and prissy prep stars. If you don't want to, you can stay out of the personnel business entirely, offering input on front office moves but resigning yourself to coaching the team you're given without worrying about recruiting players to fit your system. You can just ... coach. Would Izzo be happier if his only responsibility was X's and O's?

Add that to the natural impulse among coaches -- especially those as successful and driven as Izzo -- for new changes and challenges, and it's not hard to figure out why Izzo spent so much time mulling this one over.

In the end, though, he turned it all down. This one's not hard, either: Izzo is a legend in SpartanLand. He can coach at Michigan State forever. He has enough talent returning to (not to mention arriving in) East Lansing to reach his seventh Final Four and win a national title in 2010-11. His program is a well-oiled machine. His legacy is intact. He's happy. The media loves him. Fans love him more.

Want to know how popular Izzo is among Michigan State fans? Rather than reacting with distaste for Izzo's drawn-out job chase, Spartans fans organized a rally at the Breslin Center -- which included a teary appearance from MSU center Derrick Nix -- designed to keep the coach in town. Many fan bases with the Spartans' history of success would have told their coach to buzz off if he didn't like his job. But MSU fans owe so much of that success to Izzo that he could have taken months on his decision without losing support or tarnishing his legacy. Now that's popularity.

Why mess with a good thing?

Izzo didn't. Sure, his eye wandered. His distaste for the current state of college coaching became public. His long-held desire to challenge himself in the NBA surfaced yet again.

But Izzo left himself no wiggle room. If this wasn't the time, the time will never come.

"I am going to be a lifer," Izzo said at his press conference Tuesday night. "This is what I'm going to be. And I'm damn proud of it."

Tom Izzo will be a Spartan for life. His decision told the tale before his words ever did. But to Michigan State officials, fans, and players, the words sure sound good, too.