As Texas Tech’s Chris Beard climbed the coaching ladder over the past 20 years, he always kept an eye on colleagues he admired.
Among those on Beard’s short list: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
“Coach Izzo is one of my idols,” Beard said Monday on a Final Four teleconference call with reporters. “He’s somebody I look up to. He's been great to coaches. When I was a junior college coach, a small college coach, and a young assistant, I watched his teams practice in the open practices at the Final Four for years.
“It's almost surreal that we'll be having a chance to coach and play against him.”
That long-awaited opportunity will come Saturday night when No. 2 seed Michigan State and No. 3 Texas Tech will square off in the national semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It’ll mark the first meeting between the head coaches and their programs.
According to Beard, he and Izzo don’t have much of a history and haven’t crossed paths often. By the time Izzo took over at Michigan State in 1995, Beard was still bouncing around as an assistant and toiling in the small college ranks until he became an assistant on Bob Knight’s Texas Tech staff in 2001.
In fact, Beard said he’s had the chance to talk to Izzo just once and that happened on the recruiting trail at a Peach Jam event where Izzo “went out of his way to be nice to me.”
Still, it’s a moment that resonated with Beard and one reason why he reached out to Izzo on Monday morning to congratulate him on his eighth trip to the Final Four.
“Just to his experience at Michigan State, when Coach Knight was in the Big Ten at Indiana, I think Coach Izzo has always gone out of his way to say nice things about Coach Knight, and I've always respected that from afar,” Beard said. “Talking to him on the phone was just really cool. People talk about Final Four moments, and I'm sure there will be a bunch this weekend, but it's pretty cool having a chance to talk to Coach Izzo.”
The respect for Izzo doesn’t stop there. According to Beard, he has preached about the staples of Izzo’s Michigan State teams since he took over at Texas Tech in 2016.
“In our program, we have terminology, Michigan State toughness, Tom Izzo rebounding,” Beard said. “These are things we tell our teams.
“We have so much respect for his program. We're a program ourselves that tries to be blue collar and rebound and play defense and tries to be as tough as anyone. To me, in my opinion, that's Michigan State basketball.”
And after beating top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 2 Michigan last weekend to become West Region champions, Beard and the Red Raiders wont be daunted by Izzo and the Spartans.
Instead, they'll try to beat them at their own game.
“The last two years, when we get to March, no matter who's in front of us, we've played against a team just as good in the Big 12,” Beard said. “So as good as Michigan State is — and believe me, they're really, really good, obviously — we have played teams this year, Kansas State and Iowa State, we have played Duke in the nonconference.
“So, for us, it's another great game.”
At U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
►Virginia (33-3) vs. Auburn (30-9), 6:09 p.m. (CBS)
►Michigan State (32-6) vs. Texas Tech (30-6), 8:49 p.m. (CBS) as
►Championship, 9 p.m. (CBS)