When Tom Izzo tried to recall the Big Ten’s winningest coaches, his memory stopped after two — Gene Keady and Bob Knight.
The legendary former Purdue and Indiana basketball head coaches, respectively, have led the Big Ten in wins for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t until moments before the MSU men’s basketball team took on Purdue on Saturday that Izzo learned about the next man in line.
“I knew who the top two were,” Izzo said, “and never really thought anything (about) where I was, never really knew.”
After the No. 22 Spartans (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) knocked off Keady’s former school, 84-61, Izzo passed former Illinois coach Lou Henson, securing his 424th win as a Big Ten coach.
It’s an honor Izzo never thought he’d achieve.
“I didn’t think I’d be around that long,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody does in these jobs. I guess it is quite an honor to be up there. Unfortunately, I don’t know if it means you’ve won a lot. It just means you’ve withstood the test of time to be here long enough.”
Though Izzo joked that Keady “seems pretty safe right now,” with 512 wins, it might not be long before Izzo takes his place.
Since the 1998-99 season, Izzo has averaged 25.5 wins per season, and if he’s able to reach that total again this year, it will only take three more 25-win seasons for Izzo to move into second place.
It would require nine seasons at that pace to pass Knight, who leads the conference with
662 wins as a Big Ten head coach.
Senior center Derrick Nix said he hadn’t heard the news, but wasn’t surprised by it and recognizes that when it comes to basketball, Izzo knows best.
“He just gets the job done,” Nix said. “As players, you’ll always be like ‘Chill out, coach,’ but he’s been doing this way longer than we’ve been living. So how are you going to say that to a guy that’s third-ranked in the Big Ten?”
When junior guard Keith Appling heard the news, he said he was happy for “a great guy,” and “great coach,” that coached a lot of talented players.
Appling said there’s one attribute that separates Izzo from the rest.
“Just his willingness to win,” Appling said. “He’s so competitive. He wants to get the best out of each and every player and himself every night.”
Izzo’s rise to the upper echelon of Big Ten coaches is something Travis Trice said he finds inspirational.
Izzo often jokes about coming from a small town in the Upper Peninsula, but his sophomore guard said Izzo’s success highlights his intense drive.
“That just shows how hard work pays off, and no matter where you start off from, what you can accomplish,” Trice said.
“He’s from the (Upper Peninsula), up there where he says it’s ‘no man’s land’ (and) nothing good’s up there, but look where he’s at now.”