EAST LANSING, Mich. – Tom Izzo says he’s mellowed some after all his years at Michigan State, the last 22 as the head basketball coach. He may not be as patient as he wants to be or will need to be this season with four highly touted freshmen expected to play a larger role than any other freshman class has for him, but Izzo has perspective.
That’s not only for his own team but for his coaching colleagues, most notably football coach Mark Dantonio.
Dantonio is going through the toughest stretch of his 10 seasons leading the Spartans. The team has lost four games in a row and is winless in the Big Ten through its first three conference games one season after winning a third Big Ten championship and playing in the College Football Playoff. Five times in the last six seasons, Dantonio has led Michigan State to 11 or more wins.
Izzo can empathize with the struggles his friend is experiencing.
“I don’t think anybody can ever appreciate what a coach goes through until you walked in their shoes,” said Izzo Thursday during his hour-long press conference during Michigan State’s media day. “In fact, that’s what I’m learning about our society in general. I don’t pass judgment as much as I used to until I’ve walked in somebody else’s shoes.”
When Izzo’s team lost three straight last January – a 17-point home loss against Iowa, at Wisconsin and then at home against Nebraska – and then again after last March’s stunning first-round NCAA loss to Middle Tennessee State in St. Louis, Dantonio was around to talk, offer advice and support. Izzo has returned the favor this fall.
“Coach D is a funny guy,” Izzo said. “We’re all great at giving other people advice. But he gave me some advice last year when we lost three out of four, whatever we did. It was: stay the course. You built something here that’s solid as a rock. Don’t let a few bumps in the road let you change what you built, how you do it. You have to make a few adjustments, figure it out.
Izzo and Dantonio spoke this week.
“The other day I told him, ‘You know what you got to do. You win one more game. You’ve averaged nine wins a season in the last nine or ten years.’ I’ve been here through all of them. I’ve been here through the 20 years before that and it’s never been done. I told him to stay the course.
“I don’t think he was as receptive to that, taking advice as giving advice. But I wouldn’t be any different than him. I mean, that’s what we do.”
Izzo has led Michigan State to a combined 12 Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, seven trips to the Final Four and a national championship. He said what Dantonio has done with the football program has surpassed his program’s accomplishments.
“It is extremely important, I think, that coaches at a university, if they can be, have great relationships with each other,” Izzo said. “I think we can look at each other and give them help and give them support, give them knowledge or statements on what we went through, yet understand what they’re going through.
“I pull for Mark Dantonio as hard as anybody. He’s given me so much credit. Like I said, if you look at football and you look at basketball, you look at what they’ve accomplished so far, you look at what we’ve accomplished, they’ve one-upped us. They’ve changed the program that is harder to change in a shorter period of time.”
Dantonio’s team will attempt to snap its losing streak Saturday night at Maryland. Izzo will be watching his friend.
“Not worried about Coach D. Appreciate him. Care about him. Support him. Yet he’s got big boy shoes,” Izzo said. “He’s built it. He said he watched what we did. He one-upped me. His last couple years have been (nothing) short of miraculous. That will continue. Need to get on track a little bit and win a game. When you win a game, things start moving up.”