Coach K and Tom Izzo: Frenemies

Tom Izzo is 1-1 against Coach K in the NCAA tournament. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

Tom Izzo is 1-1 against Coach K in the NCAA tournament. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

INDIANAPOLIS — They spoke about an hour apart, but Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski sang a duet.

Izzo: I think he has been a model for a lot of people to follow.

Krzyzewski: There’s nothing about Tom that I don’t think is good.

Izzo: You don’t beat Duke unless you beat Duke. They’re not going to beat themselves.

Krzyzewski: For the most part, both of our programs, we don’t beat ourselves.  Someone has to beat us.

Izzo: I guess when you’ve been raised right, you have a little more loyalty.

Krzyzewski: You do not adapt by changing your standards — trust, loyalty…

Loyalty. That’s a good place to start. In college basketball, where so many coaches and players and schools are always looking to trade up, Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski have decided to buy and hold. This is Coach K’s 33rd season as the head man at Duke. This is Izzo’s 30th season at Michigan State — 12 as an assistant, the last 18 as head coach. People are transients on this planet. We come and go. But Krzyzewski feels as much a part of Duke as the Chapel. Izzo feels as much a part of East Lansing as the bells in the Beaumont Tower, or the cheese dip at El Azteco.*

*My wife, a Michigan State grad, considers the El Az cheese dip THE East Lansing landmark.

“I’m kind of embedded there,” Izzo said Thursday. “There’s no question he’s embedded at Duke.”

They can choose to stay, of course, because they win. Krzyzewski has 956 wins, the most ever, in his 38 years (including five at Army); Izzo has 439 in his 18 as head coach. K has 11 Final Fours and four national titles; Izzo has six and one.

Izzo put on the poormouth when comparing himself to Krzyzewski. He noted that K broke the wins record against Michigan State last season. He repeated the story about how his son, Steven, filled out a bracket that has Duke beating his dad’s team.

(Krzyzewski, asked about it later: “His son will be sitting on our bench and has a scholarship to Duke.”)

And they win because they recruit great players. Duke has half a dozen guys who can make threes, and Mason Plumlee banging and jumping in the middle. Michigan State has half a dozen guys who crash the offensive boards, and Keith Appling knee-buckling defenders. Both teams have three or four players who could end up being the star Friday night. They’ve all played a lot of tough games. In the end, the players probably make more difference than anything Krzyzewski or Izzo do.

But Krzyzewski and Izzo got them there. And now they’re here in the Sweet 16 again, as common as clouds.

Izzo: If we had to lose to somebody that was doing something special, the class and the way he’s done things over time…

Krzyzewski: If we lose to them, believe me, I’ll hug him and shake his hand, and he’ll do the same for me.

They sing to each other across the hours, Lionel and Diana doing “Endless Love.” But the talk about losing is a dodge. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are here because they know how to win. And because it kills them not to.


Questions? Comments? Challenges? Taunts? You can reach me at or on Twitter @tommytomlinson. You can find many attempts at the El Az recipe, but our friend Peteperfected it. And he ain’t tellin’.