As a coach and teacher, no matter the sport, you are a role model whether you like it or not. Each day of work I try to embrace that challenge, and do my best to set a great example. Which brings me to Michigan State’s Basketball Coach, Tom Izzo. One of the most enjoyable days I ever had was during an event at Oakland Hills Country Club in 2008. We did an after-dinner fireside chat that year and the General Manager of the club asked the legendary basketball coach, if he would join us to talk about coaching and tell a few stories. We had packed the dining room at the clubhouse with over 300 members in attendance. I was interested, not because I’m a Michigan State fan, (Go Blue) but because coach Izzo is a Yooper. He grew up in Iron Mt., MI, attended Northern Michigan University, and got his start in coaching at Ishpeming High School.
One recollection that stands out from that evening is the fact that Coach Izzo was so kind to everyone he spoke with. He was gracious with his time, meeting with the entire golf staff all the way down to the caddies at the course. I remember seeing our GM shake hands with coach Izzo, who in an upbeat voice said “Thanks for inviting me, what would you like me to do?” It was one of those moments when we just knew instantly we were going to have a very good night. As it turned out it was better than that. Coach Izzo turned our planned 45-minute “chat” into about an hour and a half and after that he stayed for another hour signing autographs and taking pictures with just about every single person in the room. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you exactly what he talked about that night when it came to his coaching secrets or his basketball stories, but I remember vividly the way he was revered by everyone in the room and the way he made everyone feel like they were his long lost cousins. Nobody left the room that night without being truly inspired at what one coach with the best intentions could accomplish.
After he spoke that night I was so intrigued by his presence that I did some research. What I found was a man of uncommon integrity and decency who does whatever he can to elevate those around him. He is deeply involved each day in making his players better people. It is not just teaching basketball, but grooming college boys to become gentlemen. Every day coaches can have a similar influence on their students, especially juniors. As a role model, golf coaches benefit by associating with a game that thrives on integrity, discipline and focus. Upon recently watching the Final Four games, and remembering listening to coach Izzo, I was reminded of the bond people feel for the truly great coaches in their lives. I hope every coach will embrace this responsibility, as it is what separates coaching from just giving golf lessons in my industry. I strive to do more than just give lessons.