Whenever there are whispers of a great college coach considering a new job in the professional ranks, the tendency is to cringe. "No, don't go! The game is totally different and if you fail, you can't go back home. Because it may have been burned to ashes by Lane Kiffin or Tim Floyd or one of the lesser Bowdens."
This must be what Tom Izzo is thinking, because I'm a freakin' mind reader. Out of nowhere, Cleveland Cavaliers president Dan Gilbert floated this offer to the venerable Michigan State Spartans basketball head coach, offering the opportunity to upgrade his team's mascot from Ancient Greece to the 17th century England. Also, something something something LeBron. Having been given ample time, there has been no denial from the Izzo camp, meaning it's a possibility.
Perhaps he would be foolish to leave his East Lansing empire, where he won a national championship in 2000 and reached the Final Four the previous two years. Or maybe his time at MSU has run its course and it's time to explore other ventures. Your local columnist already has impeccable business advice for Izzo. Because it's not their livelihood or legacy.
So only Tom Izzo knows what's best for him. But in terms of my gut reaction — I'm INCREDIBLY interested in how I'll feel! — for once, I'd be okay if a college coach left for the NBA. So many before him have tried, from Rick Pitino to John Calipari, and uprooting a legend seems like a sad end to a coach at a successful program. Ultimately the "promotion" doesn't work.
The story of a coach like this isn't supposed to end with another job. It's supposed to end with a retirement speech and perhaps cake.
But maybe it was seeing Pete Carroll leaving USC to coach the Seattle Seahawks that changed my mind. (See, Carroll did so well with the New England Patriots that after he left, they won three Super Bowls.) He was the king of football in Los Angeles, with the quarterback as his dashing prince. His team played in a soft conference and was almost a de facto Rose Bowl participant. Yes, friends, he gave that up. Maybe it was time.
And maybe the Izzo/State story mirrors that parable. He could pretty much leave the Spartans on top after reaching the Final Four as a 5-seed sans leading scorer Kalin Lucas (hurt in the second round). The year previous, they reached the championship game in their home state. It may not get much better than that in the college world, despite how deep their returning team is. The NCAA tournament is adding four more teams and teams like Butler are increasing the parity. Winning a national title, no matter what unfinished business they have left, is more of a crapshoot than ever given the additional fertilizer trucked in from Indiana.
So if the story ended like this for Tom Izzo … well, it might be bittersweet, but real life stories never end properly. Which is why generally cake is involved.