There’s little doubt that Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski – "Coach K" – is the man-among-boys brand in college basketball. His team made it once again to the NCAA's Final Four tournament, which will be played in Indianapolis at the end of this week.
But Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s coach, clearly represents a college coach whose brand is on the rise.
And that was even before reports surfaced today that the University of Oregon plans to offer Izzo $4 million a year to leave the Spartans and become the highest-paid coach in college basketball. Phil Knight, founder and chairman of Nike, apparently is the man behind the move to get Izzo on board a relatively low-profile program and turn it into a perennial contender.
While Knight’s financial backing could make Izzo as rich in the Oregon job as a contract deal with Nike itself, Izzo never has gotten big endorsement dollars like “Coach K,” who counts mega-brands American Express, Chevrolet and Allstate among his clients over the years. Neither has Izzo ever really become iconic in the game like erstwhile Big Ten rival Bobby Knight, the bombastic former coach of Indiana University’s team.
All Izzo does is lead Michigan State teams that seem destined for mediocrity and turn them into Final Four entrants. He has taken his teams from East Lansing, Mich., to the Final Four six times in the past 12 years. Krzyzewski has more Final Four appearances overall than Izzo (11) and more titles (3-1), but Izzo has been more ascendant.
Whether the Oregon deal actually goes down or Izzo returns to Michigan State as he always has – even after flirtation with plum National Basketball Association coaching jobs – the fiery, affable, telegenic Izzo may finally get his due as an endorser.
After all, Izzo stands for several things that should be red meat for brands looking for an under-exposed persona. He takes imperfect teams to the pinnacle of achievement. His forte is making lemonade out of lemons; in fact, this year’s Spartan squad was rife with ego problems and lost its star player, point guard Kalin Lucas, to a blown Achilles tendon halfway through the NCAA tournament. Izzo has become known as perhaps the game’s best coach in preparing his team for a given opponent.
And Izzo personifies loyalty. Or at least he does as of this writing.