Spartan Hockey is rising but Basketball is fading.

Michigan State Hockey is back.

After winning 3 National titles commencing in 1965/66 then repeating in 1985/86 and again in 2006/07, Michigan State Hockey took an unfortunate 11-year hiatus under Head Coaches Tom Anastos and Danton Cole, both of whom posted losing records.

Not to disparage Tom Anastos and Danton Cole but they were simply not up to leading championship programs.

After all, in 6 years, Tom Anastos only posted two winning seasons offset by 4 losing campaigns.

Meanwhile Danton Cole never posted a winning season in the Big Ten and never finished better than 6th place amongst just 7 Big Ten Hockey teams, finishing “dead ass last” 4 times.

Anastos posted an uninspiring W/L/Tie record of 78-121-24 (.404) while Cole posted a decidedly dismal record of 58-101-12 (.374).

So, under the guidance of Anastos and Cole, the historically proud Spartan Hockey program floundered from 2011 to 2022 and only posted 2 winning seasons in 11 years.

Yet Adam Nightingale, the Spartans second year Head Coach had a championship plan and restored the dignity of Spartan Hockey.

After inheriting a losing program, Nightingale posted a solid W/L/Tie record of 18-18-2 in just his first season and served notice that Spartan Hockey was back.

Then, in just his second year, Nightingale posted an incredible overall 23-9-3 W/L/Tie record including a 16-6-2 record in the Big Ten.

So, with Nightingale leading the charge, Michigan State won a Big Ten regular season Hockey title as well as a Big Ten Tournament title in his second year as head coach…yet Nightingale is just getting started.

The Spartans commenced a quest for their 4th National Title on Friday night as one of four #1 seeds. In that regard, the Spartans beat #4 seed Western Michigan 5-4 to advance to the Elite 8 where the Spartans will play Michigan on Sunday (stay tuned).

Odds makers have established the Spartans as 4th best odds to win the National Championship after Boston College, Boston University and Denver…but don’t count out Adam Nightingale because defying the odds is what Adam Nightingale does best.


Nightingale has leadership capability and championship credentials:

Nightingale played Right Wing for the Spartans from 2002 to 2005 and served as Captain for 2 years.

Moreover, he was a member of the Spartan Hockey team that won the CCHA (predecessor to the Big Ten) Conference Playoffs in 2005. Thereafter, Nightingale served in various capacities until he became Spartan Head Coach in 2022.

For 4 years Nightingale played minor league Hockey, then served in various capacities as Coach and Director of Operations both nationally and internationally before Alan Haller named Nightingale as Head Hockey Coach in 2022.

Staying true to his championship credentials, it only took Adam Nightingale 2 years to build a Championship team and cop the crown as both Big Ten regular season and Big Ten tournament champions. An exceedingly heady achievement.

Yet, while Hockey is rising, Basketball is fading, and Tom Izzo needs to answer a tough question.


Tom Izzo needs to ask himself: is it time to go?

Let’s start with this, Tom Izzo has earned our respect as an ambassador of Basketball, and he has achieved more than we could have ever anticipated.

Tom Izzo was born in 1955 in tiny Iron Mountain, Michigan in the UP (Pop 7500) which means Tom Izzo will be 70 years old next season.

For a kid from a tiny town, Tom Izzo has had an improbable journey and a remarkable career.

After taking the reins of Spartan Basketball from Jud Heathcote in 1995, it only took Izzo 3 years to reach the Sweet 16…4 years to reach the Final Four…and 5 years to win a National Championship.

His championship run was steady and methodical, and his persistence was notable.

Overall, Tom Izzo has won 6 Big Ten Tournament titles, 10 Big Ten titles, played in 8 Final Fours and only failed to earn an NCAA invitation twice in 28 years, or said another way, Izzo has qualified for the NCAA in 26 consecutive years.


It would be fair to say, Tom Izzo has been more than a Basketball coach, moreover he has been an ambassador for Iron Mountain his home town as well as an ambassador for the Upper Peninsula, the State of Michigan, Michigan State University, and the world of College Basketball at large.

But everyone has a day and time, so we need to ask, and Tom Izzo must ask himself: is it time to step away with dignity intact?

It’s a question that no one wants to ask but it’s the “elephant in the room”, because in the last 4 years, armed with some of his best recruiting classes, Izzo has posted a cumulative and decidedly uninspiring Big Ten record of 41-38 (52%).

It’s notable, since 2019 when measured against Big Ten opponents, Izzo recruited the #2 class in 2019…#2 class 2021…and #1 class 2023 (#7 overall) including Xavier Booker and Jeremy Fears.

Yet, Izzo posted his only losing Big Ten season in 2020/21 including a dismal #8 Big Ten finish. He also finished #7 (2021/22)…#4 (2022/23)…and #6 (2022/24).

In 3 of those 4 years, Tom Izzo’s record in NCAA Tournament has been decidedly “dismal”, take a look:

  • In 2020/21, Izzo was ousted by UCLA 86-80, in the “First Four” (not the Final Four but the First Four).
  • In 2021/22, Izzo was ousted by Duke 85-75, in just the second round.
  • In 2023/24, Izzo was ousted by UNC 85-69 (-16 points), in just the second round.

There is a poetic and poignant song that was written in 1957 by Willian Barnes, (nearly 70 years ago) yet the song holds relevant meaning for people of all ilk who have achieved fame of any kind, especially in business, sport, and theater.

The song is titled “Have I stayed too long at the fair”, but the title is simply a metaphor and it makes the statement that “the fair will eventually close”, and if you stay too long, the lights will dim, the rides will slow, the magic will fade and the patrons will go home. To take the translation a bit further: it’s a searing reminder that people who once loved you when you were up, will likely ask you to leave the stage when you are down”.

I encourage you to Google the lyrics to appreciate the full meaning, but Tom Izzo needs to ask: “Have I stayed too long at the fair? because according to his record over the last 4 years, Tom Izzo’s star is fading.

Is it likely Tom Izzo will win a National Title at 70, or 71, or 72 or 73? Be honest, it’s highly improbable. After all, Tom Izzo hasn’t won a National Title since he was 40 years old, so what is the likelihood he will win a title in his 70’s? The odds are exceedingly long.

Moreover, Tom Izzo’s record is trending south and he looks like he is losing a grip at courtside. The man who once had an answer for every second of the game, suddenly doesn’t have the answers and doesn’t look in control.

Is it time for Izzo to step down before the fans ask him to step down?

Izzo might want to take a cue from Coach K and Nick Saban, both of whom left the stage while still on top, thereby leaving fans clamoring for more.

Coach K stepped down in 2022 after winning 5 NCAA Championships. He also reached the Final Four in his final season, but he left with his dignity intact and with fans clamoring for more.

Meanwhile, Saban retired last season, after winning a National Championship as recently as 2020, and in the last 3 years from 2021 to 2023, Saban finished #2, #5 and #5 including a W/L record of 36-3.

So, Coach K and Saban exited the stage and left fans clamoring for more. Meanwhile, fans are scratching their heads about Izzo’s coaching job over the last 4 years and the road going forward is littered with potholes.


Big Ten’s Old guard replaced by Young Lions:

The old guard of Big Ten coaches who Izzo competed against for most of his career have long since retired and received their Gold watches, including but not limited to:

  • Gene Keady, Purdue
  • Bruce Weber, Illinois
  • Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
  • Thad Matta, Ohio State
  • John Beilein, Michigan

Let’s remember, Tom Izzo is just 2 years shy of coaching 30 years but instead of getting better, he finished 6th in Big Ten this season with a middling Big Ten record of 10-10.

In that regard, Izzo was looking up at Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin in Big Ten standings and it’s notable that each of those teams deployed coaches who are measurably younger than Izzo.

Here is the new vanguard of Big Ten coaches including their corresponding age:

  • Matt Painter, Purdue 53
  • Brad Underwood, Illinois 60
  • Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska 51
  • Chris Collins, Northwestern 49
  • Greg Garde, Wisconsin 53

And for good measure, let’s account for the new young Lions who have taken the reins at Ohio State and Michigan respectively:

  • Jake Diebler, Ohio State 37
  • Dusty May, Michigan 47

The age differential between Izzo and the top 7 coaches in the Big Ten ranges from 10 years (Brad Underwood, Illinois) to 33 years (Brad Diebler, Ohio State).


At the bottom line, let’s give Alan Haller his due:

I have been reluctant to lend support to Alan Haller since he was appointed AD because I deemed he lacked experience and I surmised he acquired his AD job as a nod to Spartan nepotism instead of his credentials as an elite AD, yet Haller is proving he may just be the “elite” AD that Spartan athletics has desperately needed.

Will Haller rise to the level of legendary “Biggie’ Munn and/or Mark Hollis as elite Spartan AD’s? That is yet to be determined but Haller  is seemingly doing his homework, making prudent hiring decisions and winning my support.

To his credit, Haller quietly stepped out and hired Adam Nightingale (Hockey) in 2022, then hired Jonathan Smith (Football) last November.

Those are two, high profile, revenue producing sports and if all goes according to plan, those coaches will win multiple Big Ten titles and Haller will get (and should get) all the credit.

The script is still being written of course, but Nightingale has already exceeded expectations by winning a regular season and Big Ten Tournament title, while Johnathan Smith seems poised to reestablish Spartan Football as a formidable force within the Big Ten.

Now, Haller needs to set a plan for Basketball.

As a director of Spartan Athletics, Haller needs to have a “heart to heart” conversation with Tom Izzo and set a realistic sunset on Izzo’s tenure, whether it be one year thereby enabling Izzo to take a Big Ten victory tour at each Big Ten venue next season, with a max of 3 years.

But there needs to be a sunset for Tom Izzo, and 3 years is max.

After all, Izzo is old enough to be a Grandfather to the players he is recruiting and that’s not a cute or novel scenario for a coach who is treading water with a .500 Big Ten record over the past 4 years, so it’s time for Tom Izzo to make a curtain call, take a a final bow and exit stage with his dignity intact.

Let’s hope Tom Izzo doesn’t stay on forever because with more losses, his supporters are likely to leave him standing alone, and in the inimitable final words of the song:

There is nothing to win
And there’s no one to want me
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

The legacy of Alan Haller and Tom Izzo will be defined by a succession plan for Basketball.

If the succession plan is successful it will enable Tom Izzo to depart with his dignity intact, and thereby enable Alan Haller to hire the Basketball version of Adam Nightingale or Jonathan Smith.

A successful succession plan would also establish Haller with the makings of an “Elite” AD.

Tom Izzo has been an ambassador for Michigan State for nearly 30 years, so let’s hope Tom Izzo controls the narrative, takes a victory tour and walks out with his dignity intact.


Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments.