Mat Ishbia's record donation a gesture of 'love' and gratitude for Tom Izzo, MSU

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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Tom Izzo has never been one to hold back when it comes to showing emotion.

That’s been evident throughout his career at Michigan State, which began as a graduate assistant basketball coach for Jud Heathcote before leading to a national championship, multiple Final Four appearances and numerous Big Ten championships, as well as a spot on the Basketball Hall of Fame.

So many moments over the years, the tears have welled up and the coach’s voice cracked.

Friday was another one of those moments, and it had nothing to do with winning a game or claiming a championship. This time, it was because of a gesture from a former player.

Mat Ishbia, a former basketball walk-on, said Friday he had been thinking about donating to Michigan State for several years.

On Thursday, Michigan State announced that alumnus and president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage Mat Ishbia was donating $32 million to the athletic department. A large portion of that — $20 million — is going toward the football program and an addition to the Skandalaris Center, while smaller amounts were allocated to men’s basketball and the establishment of the Spartan For Life Fund.

What Ishbia made sure to include in his donation was the fact he wanted the new football building to be named after his old coach, as well as the court at the Breslin Center.

“Thank you,” Izzo said, pausing and fighting to get the words out. “I love you. I don't deserve the praise you've given me. You didn't get here because of what I did for you, you got here because of the job you took and did yourself.

“You've done good, as they say in the U.P.”

Ishbia has done more than good. Since graduating from Michigan State in 2003 after playing four years on the basketball team during a stretch that included a national title, three straight trips to the Final Four and three Big Ten titles, Ishbia has become a star in the business world.

More: Bill Beekman: Decision to cut MSU's swim program won't change after $32M gift

After joining his family’s company when it had only 12 employees, Ishbia has built United Wholesale Mortgage into the No. 1 wholesale mortgage lender in the country with more than 8,000 employees.

On Wednesday, United Wholesale Mortgage Holdings Corp. recorded a profit of $3.38 billion in 2020, more than seven times its net income last year as low interest rates spurred refinancing activity. The Pontiac-based mortgage lender shared its financial results for the first time since going public last month on the New York Stock Exchange in a $16.1 billion merger with a blank-check company. It closed 69% more in origination volume, a key market indicator, than in 2019, totaling a record $182.5 billion.

On Friday, Ishbia gave credit to Izzo and the university for getting him to where he is today and in a position to give back to his alma mater as his donation represented the single largest donation ever made to the university.

“I would not be where I'm at without Michigan State, the business school,” Ishbia said. “To the teachers and professors I've had here, to the students and friends I made, to my teammates, and of course the coaches and specifically Coach Izzo. He says I give him too much credit, but I don't know if I give him enough credit. Where I've been able to grow as a person, as a father, as an adult as a leader, it is all tied to Coach Izzo and what I learned from him.”

Ishbia said he’s been thinking about donating to Michigan State for several years and now was the perfect time. After consulting with Izzo, it was clear the men’s basketball program was in good shape after a $50 million renovation to the Breslin Center was completed in 2018, including donations from Rocket Mortgage’s Dan Gilbert, as well as former player Draymond Green.

So, the shift was made to football.

“With Coach Tucker and the impact he's starting to make already at Michigan State and will make for years to come, it was, ‘How can we help maybe put a little fuel on the fire to his success, maybe help really propel it in a better way?'’’ Ishbia said. “Football obviously creates great revenue and a halo effect for everybody to be successful. Mel Tucker is going to be successful whether I'm part of it or not. Hopefully I put a little fuel on the fire to accelerate in a small way and I'll be honored to be part of it.”

It provides a nice boost to Tucker’s program as he enters his second season leading the Spartans. There were plans for the additions to the football building before Tucker arrived under former coach Mark Dantonio, but now that it’s a reality, Tucker is eager to see the benefits.

“Thanks to Mat's vision and beliefs in Michigan State athletics, we will have a state of the art football facility that will be among the best in the country,” said Tucker, who has coached at programs like Alabama and Georgia that have top-notch facilities.

“We’re incredibly excited to unveil these upgrades in the very near future, improvements that will greatly enhance the efficiency of our daily operations. …When a recruit walks in the doors of our football building, they will know that they are at Michigan State. This building will reflect our culture and our values.”

There is no timetable for when the project will be completed but athletic director Bill Beekman said it will be done in phases.

As for when it gets started?

“I've got a shovel in my car, so we may get started later on this afternoon,” Tucker said.

Everyone involved on Friday — a group that included MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. and former trustee Brian Mosallam — praised the efforts from Ishbia. In addition to the money for football, $2 million is going to men’s basketball, $2 million will establish the Spartan For Life Fund, and the rest will be used as the athletic department determines.

But it all began with basketball and the relationship between Ishbia and Izzo.

“I would not be as successful, I would not be as great of a person or father without Coach Izzo and the impact he's made on my life,” Ishbia said. “So, thank you, coach, for everything in your life that you've done for me and so many others. I’m glad I can give back in a small way and tell you how much I love you, and that love will never change. I’m glad to be able to contribute in a small way to show my love for you and this university.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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