Fife: Working with Izzo too good to pass up.

I spoke with Dane Fife earlier today about his new job with Michigan State. The story will run in the paper tomorrow. An excerpt from that follows.

Dane Fife understands this move might seem strange.
Not only did the former Indiana guard already have a head coaching job, he had it locked up for the foreseeable future. Just three weeks ago, Fife signed a contract extension that would keep him at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne through 2016.
But on Wednesday, after six years as a Division I head coach, he went back to being an assistant. By choice.
So why would a coach go back to working for someone else and take what some might view as a voluntary demotion? Because, Fife said, it was that important for him to work for Tom Izzo.
Wednesday, Fife was named an assistant coach under Izzo at Michigan State. It was something he’d begun formally discussing with the Spartans’ revered head man since before the Final Four, shortly after Mark Montgomery left the MSU staff to be the head coach at Northern Illinois, but it was an idea Fife made it clear for some time that he was interested in.
“I’ve been bugging coach Izzo for a long time, probably 10 or 11 years,” said the 31-year-old Fife, who was recruited by Izzo at Clarkston High School in Michigan and considered transferring to MSU in 2000 when Bob Knight was fired. “Coach knew of my interest, and one of the things that was really important to him was to get somebody who really wanted to be at Michigan State, really wanted to be part of the program. I’d shown it for a long time, and told him that if he ever had a spot open, I was interested.”
Of course, 10 or 11 years ago, Fife wasn’t a head coach. He was still in school then, setting Indiana’s career record for steals with 180 and winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2002. After graduation and a brief stretch with the Gary Steelheads of the Continental Basketball Association, he spent two years with the Hoosiers as a graduate assistant under Mike Davis.
He was named the head coach at IPFW at 25, and built a program that was in its Division I infancy into a Summit League contender. The 2009-10 team went 16-15 to give the school its first winning record since joining Division I, and this year’s team went 18-12 and finished fourth in the conference with an 11-7 league record.
So that wasn’t easy to walk away from.
“We’ve got our program going in the right direction,” Fife said of IPFW. “I think we’re going to be great in terms of the league this year. I think we have good players and we have some great young players. But this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. This was a major goal for me. I get back in the Big Ten and coach for a guy who I think is one of the best coaches on the planet. He’s certainly one of the best coaches in the country. At this point in my life, I think it’s a really good decision for me.”


  1. Give him three years at MSU under a great mentor like Izzo and he’ll be ready to take over when IU fires Crean. But hey, wasn’t Crean mentored by Izzo before he went off to Marquett?

  2. Come On! Everyone who has put on an IU uniform is a better coach than Crean? Fife was coaching at IU-PU Fort Wayne. He signed a contract extension because that was the best he could do…And though it has nothing to do with his coaching potential, isn’t he the one who committed the stupidest of stupid fouls at the end of the IU/Duke game in the Regional semi-final that sent Jason Williams to the foul line to tie the game? Let Williams make the 3 (which he did) without fouling him and IU wins. He makes his free throw and IU loses in OT (because Duke was much better)and the Hoosiers don’t get to the Final Four and subsequently the championship game. He and we are lucky that Williams missed. Fife might turn out to be a good/very good coach but deal with reality rather than dislike for Crean and ifs. This guy is only good enough to coach for a school that barely exists and become an assistant (to a very good program) who better be able to recruit or he’s gone from there.

  3. Fife had prepared himself very well before going to IPFW. He did a great job, steadily improving every year.

    I am sad to see him leave but wish him well. He is a class act! Hopefully this will be a great career move and he will eventually land his dream job.

  4. Dane obviously has a vision and wants to work under one of the best. He will get some big ten experience and be prepared when IU calls his number. Crean is on a mission to turn the program around and win a National Championship. Then he will move on to another challenge. That’s what guys like him do. Dane will step in and be able to continue the greatness.

  5. I have a question. Are any of the folks on here that are singing the praises of Fife also among the posters who castigated the assistant football coaches for signing contracts and then bolting for a better gig? Fife signed a new contract with IUPUFW three frickin’ weeks ago. According to many, many previous posts about the other coaches, doesn’t that make him a low life bottom feeder?

  6. Chet, I was one of those guys for sure. I did not know Fife signed that new contract. wow, I will have to let that sink in. It is strange that he would sign it and look for something that quick. Maybe this is the way of the coaching world, I just don’t remember so many doing this.

  7. Chet, I skipped over the main story and should never do that. The only way I can rationalize it is I wonder if Fife had NO idea he would come close to getting that Mich St job but in the end he did sign the contract so he sold IUPFW out just like those coaches sold IU out.

  8. Put it this way, do I blame Fife for leaving IPFW after signing that extension? No. Would I be frustrated if I was a fan of IPFW? Yes. Do I blame IUFB’s assistants leaving for better jobs with better pay? No. Am I frustrated that they did? Yes. Sure, being a head coach at a D1 school is looked upon more favorably than an assistant’s job anywhere, but when you have the chance to learn your craft from arguably one of the best coaches in the long history of college basketball, not taking that opportunity is just foolish. I wish Dane the best of luck, and hope he doesn’t mind the beatdowns the Hoosiers are gonna put on Sparty the next couple years/decades.

  9. Eric, I’m pretty much in the same boat I certainly don’t look favorably on it but, as all the involved parties didn’t seem to get upset about it, it just seems to be the way the coaching business is done. My only point was, don’t throw those football coaches under the bus and then say what a great guy Fife is.

  10. I’m sure there is a reason that the FB coaches left that has not been told to the public. My guess is that Coach Wilson’s transgressions in the dorm that night might possibly have been a repeat performance that they thought might occur again. And if he loses his job, they lose theirs.

  11. To be sure, Fife probably made a wise decision for his resume and career. Given where we live.

    I agree that there is the issue of having signed the contract with IPFW three short weeks ago. Somehow, we are slowly finding out that ‘honor and integrity’ have very little to do with inter-collegiate athletics.

    Two months ago, we were on the ‘receiving end’ of the decisions by assistant football coaches with freshly signed contract, rescinding them to accept jobs elsewhere. My dad had a phrase for that.

    A short bit after that, it appeared some ‘commitments’ to scholarships by Indiana to high school players were being rescinded. Truthfully, it made me very uncomfortable; yet, many justified it by stating Indiana had ‘no obligation to those individuals’ if they were not going to be [really good] players.

    While I may understand that if academically you do not meet minimum standards you lose [and should lose] your scholarships, the criteria for deciding who is making ‘acceptable’ progress is clear and, generally, objectively defined in academics; while totally subjective in basketball.

    For weeks I’ve been reading blogs from anxiety ridden ‘fans’ wondering who would be left out in the cold if Crean ‘oversigns’ by more than one. They even suggest who should be ‘let go’. And, so that we are clear on this, I’ve read no rejection of this very, very borderline (over-signing the maximum allowable) suggestion by TC.

    Even if it were, I’m not sure how I feel about taking an athletic scholarships away from a kid who is meeting his obligation in the classroom.

    Now Dane Fife’s (a Hoosier favorite) exercises his personal right to improve his coaching situation and education, but at a cost to IPFW. I agree, it is probably best for Dane. Should we give any consideration to the players at IPFW? To students there? to the recruits for 2011? to the program? to the University? Should there be a payout to make IU whole? (I’ll take a good point guard and an inside the lane player from Izzo’s team).

    Last week I listened as the new Executive Director of the NCAA defended (staring at the camera and not blinking nor falling down laughing) the billions of dollars-a-year business of basketball (and football), justifyin the tax dollars invested in capital facilities (which, ultimately, are enjoyed by the NCAA’s business); or the salaries paid to assistant and head coaches two to ten times greater than the professors at state universities, with the residuals fees of the athletes kept by the NCAA forever. That’s some gig.

    Last week Hugh Kellenberg thought it was ok for a basketball player to take a “seat” (academic space) away from a student more deserving for one year and then leave. Period! No consideration for paying back the scholarship money, (remember they sign for sums in the millions of dollars), never being accountable for the responsibilities of the student-athlete. This, however misstated, was RMK’s point) Hugh defended the system as somehow beneficial to society. (I’m not sure I understood his logic but the, with Hugh, I rarely do).

    In fact, I’m still at the point of questioning why privileged coaches and basketball players are paid salaries that at a minimum reach hundreds of thousands of dollars; while a sergeant in the Marines defending us and getting his or her brains splattered or their limbs IED’d into kindom-come, or forced to live in the muck of Ft. Restrepo in Afghanistan makes about $60,000…so we can go enjoy our basketball or football games or other entertainment.

    We don’t even know their names.

    It is naive for us to think there is anything nearing honor, integrity and fairness in college athletics. The entire issue of Dane Fife’s leaving IPFW is completely consistent with the state of college athletics. And, college athletics is pretty consistent with the state of our society.

    That’s what’s scary.

  12. IULONGAGO; My comment was totally tongue-in-cheek. I thought that was obvious by the last part of the comment, when I referred to Crean being mentored by Izzo.

    Besides, if I had to pick a former IU BB player to coach IU after Crean, Fife would not be on the short list. There’s a guy down in New Mexico that I think would be more suitable candidate for the job. But let’s hope that never becomes necessary. I want Crean to be successful as much as anyone. He sure can recruit!

    As for coaches signing contracts and then leaving for better jobs, it just seems that has become the norm these days. I assume that all the college administrators understand this and are constantly reviewing their succession plans. And whose to say IPFW won’t find someone better.

  13. TTG, there are places were things are still done in proportion to their significance. My daughter competes for an Ivy League school. No athletic scholarships. No special dispensations for athletes. No high salaries. The athletes actually have it a lot harder as they have to do everything every other student does in addition to their sport. As we are not affluent, she also works a part time job. It’s a bit pricey. Unlike so many spoiled athletes, she just feels lucky for the opportunity

  14. Wow!!! That is really admirable and please tell her so! I already suspected you were made of finer fiber than most. I also had similar experience with two and nothing makes a man prouder and happier than to look at the daughter(s)/son(s) and know they’ve outdone the DNA.

    In many ways, I think we both recall really good times around IU when those qualities were so and have a bit of a feeling that Coach Wilson may be cut from that same bark. At least, we pray so.

    Funny…as important as it is to us…winning ‘ain’t enuff’… standing tall is!

    My sincere heartfelt congrats!

  15. No credit to my fiber. She’s doing all the work not me. I just fixed breakfast for 18 years. Definitely outdid the DNA. I am very proud of her…and her brothers. Because of them I’ve gotten to watch her in the Ivy League, gone to a BCS bowl game, and been to the NCAA Wrestling Championships. I am humbled by them.

  16. I should note, my one son didn’t get into the bowl game and my other son won but a single match at the NCAA’s. That didn’t matter to me.

  17. Impressive Chet…don’t sell yourself short on the DNA…the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree…

  18. Chet, your daughter’s reward, aside from the joy of competition, etc will begin upon her graduation. The powers that be will recognize her exceptionalism based on the extra effort she displayed in college. Good for you and especially good for her.

    “The reward in doing something is to have done it well.”

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