Tom Izzo to the NBA? A Faustian Bargain Indeed
As a lifelong Michigan fan, few things would make me happier than seeing Tom Izzo jump ship as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans to take the helm of the Cavs. Over the course of the last decade, Izzo has presided over a period of unparalleled success for the Spartans with 6 final four appearances, 6 Big Ten championships and an NCAA championship. Although his departure would hardly mean an immediate rise to the top of the Big Ten for the Wolverines, it would make their path easier. Yet I disagree with this potential move, as it would be nothing short of a deal with the devil that would ultimately spell doom for both parties. Particularly because college coaches rarely (if ever) perform well in the NBA. In Izzo’s case, he’d be walking away from a job that has made him the patron saint of Spartan-Land, in exchange for nothing of any value, except of course money; hence the Faustian Bargain.
In the case of the Cavs, they would be eschewing more qualifed NBA coaching candidates in favor of a well-known disciplinarian at the college level who has no NBA experience. Part of the reason why college coaches find it so hard to coach in the NBA (see Calipari, Kruger, Pitino, Montgomery) is because the power structure is entirely upended. The college game is largely coach-driven. The coaches have all the control, and they principally drive the fortunes of any collegiate program. In the NBA, the opposite is true. The NBA is largely a player-driven league, where very few (Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich, Larry Brown, Doc Rivers) have a material impact on the success of their teams. What has made each of these coaches successful is the ability to manage egos with the same skill as managing a game. Given Izzo’s stern approach to coaching, he may find it difficult to match his success in the NBA with his tenure as a college coach. Based upon recent reports, at least a few factions within the Cleveland organization agree.
To wit, recent reports indicate that ESPN analyst Byron Scott is being given serious consideration for the Cleveland job also. Some have also indicated that this interest in Scott indicates is a schism between the basketball folks within the Cavs organization and owner and Spartan alum Dan Gilbert who favors Izzo. Needless to say most of us will be curious to see how this all plays out.
In the end, I think Izzo will take the job. I base this solely on a gut feeling, and the fact that this has dragged on for quite some time. Also, there are rumors out there that Izzo has tired of the cheating ways of college basketball recruiting, which explains why this job offer is different. Yet, I still question the wisdom of the move. Above all else, this job has much less value without LeBron James. Doubtless, Izzo would be able to get assurance from the soon-to-be free agent James before making a decision. Still, Izzo takes the job, makes the deal with the devil, and is out of the league in 4 years but a heck of a lot richer.