Tom Izzo, a 'groovy' Yooper

Tom Izzo at Work
of the college basketball section. I thought this would be a good of time as any to post an entry about arguably the most famous and successful Yooper.

I am, however, a bit biased. After spending five years at Michigan State it was hard not to see Izzo climb up on my list of most famous Yoopers of all time. When you cross into East Lansing and Spartan territory there is no doubt that Tom Izzo is a living legend. After 25 years those things tend to happen, especially when you throw in a national championship, four Final Four appearances, sending 10 players to the NBA draft since 2000, and coaching arguably one the greatest college basketball programs in the country in the last decade.

I had seen Tom Izzo around campus and East Lansing a few times. And yes it is one of those starstruck moments to be honest, as it is for most Spartans. However, a few years ago while photographing the Spartans vs. Wolverines football game on the sidelines during a very cold and rainy fall day. Although Izzo often sits in the stands during football games he happened to be on the sidelines on this day, with no other than Magic Johnson.

For a brief moment I got to shake hands with both Tom Izzo and Magic Johnson. Magic Johnson even signed my press pass (probably not ethical to get a press pass signed, but hey, I was 21 and things like that just don’t happen often). I also asked Izzo if he had been to the Upper Peninsula recently. He said he hadn’t been here lately.

Though Izzo doesn’t make it to the U.P. often, he is just as loyal.

“What he does have is an abiding loyalty to the place. Every season, he invites a busload of locals — Yoopers, as they’re affectionately known — to a Michigan State home game, providing them with tickets and even entertaining them at his house. The trip is so popular that there’s a waiting list to get on the bus.”

Pat Forde, ESPN.com

Tom Izzo at Midnight Madness

Tom Izzo and family dressed up in 70s gear for 2008 Midnight Madness at the Breslin Center
Another year and another Midnight Madness at MSU. This year brought a 70s theme. But in years past it has been rappelling from the ceiling of the gym; riding a horse into the place while wearing a coonskin cap; riding a Harley-Davidson; appearing in combat fatigues; appearing as Dracula; and showing up last year dressed as a Spartan.

The article goes on to say…

“In a profession overrun with ego and self-importance, Izzo doesn’t mind playing the occasional fool for fun. There aren’t many millionaire coaches with national championship rings willing to wear a wig and a fake mustache, but there is one in East Lansing.”

Pat Forde, ESPN.com

He has represented the Upper Peninsula well.

Izzo was born in Iron Mountain in 1955. In high school he would befriend another famous Yooper, Steve Mariucci.

Tom Izzo went on to play basketball at Northern Michigan from 1973-1977. His senior season lead to a school record for minutes play and being named a Division II All-American.

His success landed him the head coaching job Ishpeming high school in 1977, but it wouldn’t last long. After a single season he headed back to NMU for fours years as an assistant coach.

In 1983 Izzo signed with Michigan State as a part-time assistant where he began his 25-year tenure (which I feel isn’t going to end anytime soon) at MSU. He become MSUs head coach in 1995, replacing Jud Heathcote.

During nearly every broadcast it seems that the Upper Peninsula gets a tiny plug when they mention Tom Izzo’s background. And how can they go wrong. Now, if only we can get a shirt to him, and maybe a couple back in return that are autographed.

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