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April 20, 2011

Fife: 'I want to be part of something special'

Caught up with Dane Fife on the phone, and here's the conversation with MSU's newest basketball assistant coach, including his revelation that it was a "done deal" in his mind to transfer to MSU when Bobby Knight was fired in 2000:


    * How tough was the decision to go from head coach to assistant coach?
    “It was very difficult. We’ve got great players here and we’ve got great players coming in, so I had to weigh all those issues. I think the overriding issue was, I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to work with and for coach Izzo. And I think Michigan State is also a big component. It’s back home, it’s a great institution and it’s just a great opportunity for me to have this chance to learn and serve. And hopefully bring some new ideas to the table to bring the Spartans back another ring.”

    * Tom Izzo obviously recruited you as a player, but how involved has he been in your coaching career?
    “He’s been heavily involved in my career. Right off the bat when I graduated, he was one of a couple people who reached out to me. And it just amazed me that he was so willing to help, even though I turned him down as a high school player. It just amazed me that he would be so kind. And so we built a relationship over the years. I always knew Tom Izzo would be a great coach, I knew that coming out of high school, but I think at this stage in my career, I’m 31, I’m relatively young in the business, and I think I’ve got a lot to learn. And I want to be great. So I think it’s a really good opportunity. And I want to be part of something special. And I think I can bring some things to the Spartan family, to the basketball program that hopefully can help them and steer them back to a Final Four and hopefully a national championship.”

    * How difficult was it to tell your players at IPFW this morning?
    “It’s hard because the student athletes become, any coach will tell you this, they’re like my sons. They become family. We’re with each other every day, we learn to love and trust and build that relationship, so it’s hard. It’s hard to leave the city of Fort Wayne. This is a great city. My wife and now my daughter and I have really enjoyed being a part of it, so it’s hard to lose all that. It’s like, it’s our family, it’s what we know and it’s gonna be hard. But like I said, it’s just the right decision for me and I’m really excited.”

    * How did the players take it?
    “I think they understand, I think they understand my relationship with coach Izzo and how I feel about him. And they understand my aspirations to get to the top. And this is the top for me at this point in my career, having this opportunity at Michigan State with coach Izzo. They understand, and I’d understand if they came in and told me the same thing.”

    * How did this situation materialize, when did it get serious?
    “I knew what you knew. When Monty took the job at Northern Illinois, (Izzo and I) talked on the phone briefly right after the Final Four. And then coach, he wanted to do it right. So he took his time, did his research and then I’d say it really picked up probably over the weekend. We’ve been talking quite a bit for last three, four, five days. I’ve met with his staff and talked with a few of his players and his support staff. When he says he wants to do it right, he had me talk to everybody, so I think it shows that this is an important hire and he didn’t want to rush. And he definitely took his time, there’s no question.”

    * What do you think your role will be on the staff?
    “Nothing that I can give you that’s concrete. I think what coach expects is for me to come in and do what he’s always known me to be, and that’s someone that gets the most out of my ability and doesn’t get outworked. And that’s a generic answer but I think that’s what he expects. And bring the element of what I was as a player to my coaching/recruiting/player relationships.”

    * Speaking of recruiting, there are some Indiana prospects MSU is chasing. You obviously have connections in the state. Do you feel you can be an immediate asset on the recruiting trail, and what will it be like to be recruiting for Michigan State?
    “Well I think the great thing we have going at Michigan State is that kids want to listen. But we can’t take the fact that we’re at Michigan State for granted. It’s obviously a top-of-the-line program and we know that and we’ll act that way, but we’re not gonna take it for granted. I’ll tell you this, I really do look forward to getting back into the state of Michigan a little bit more, but I certainly look forward to utilizing my contacts in the state of Indiana, that’s for sure. The state of Indiana, having lived there, it’s just unbelievable basketball. I think more importantly, though, there’s unbelievable people in the basketball business that really understand the game, and really know how to flat-out coach. And I think it’s very similar to Michigan in that light. Michigan basketball is really all I knew for 18 years, and it’s gonna be great to get back into Michigan as well.

    * Speaking of “Michigan basketball,” there’s a heavy U-M presence in your family with your dad and brother playing in the past for the Wolverines. Are they cool with this?
    “(Laughing) Well, my dad and brothers, we all grew up Michigan for the most part. But I think everyone recognizes my relationship with Tom Izzo, and the family’s relationship with Tom Izzo has been strong for probably about 20 years now. So to my family it was a no brainer, it was an easy decision. I probably had the hardest decision. My brothers and dad and mom all thought it was exactly the right thing to do at the right time. I was the one who had to ponder the decision of leaving a head job and coming to Michigan State.”

    * As a recruit, how close were you to coming to Michigan State?
    “Well, it came down to familiarity. And unfortunately, coach Izzo had only been the head coach for (a couple years). And I really didn’t follow Michigan State until coach Izzo became the coach. I’d followed Indiana my whole life. That’s what it came down to. Duke was in there too. Michigan really wasn’t because Steve Fisher had just been fired, so Michigan was out. It just came down to familiarity and a lifelong dream of playing at Indiana.”

    * And when Bobby Knight was fired in 2000, how seriously did you consider transferring to MSU?
    “Oh, it was done. I mean it was done. It was done in my mind. I think coach Izzo definitely put the brakes on that a little bit, wanted me to think it through. I was 20 years old, but it was done. I think what kept me at Indiana was obviously the passion people have for the school and the program, but also my teammates. Loyalty to my school, loyalty to my teammates.”

    * What’s your next step at MSU?
    “I’d like to get around, get to some schools, whatever coach needs me to do at this point. The biggest challenge is getting acclimated. Everything that I’m used to is going to be different, but I think (I’ll be) recruiting, spending time with the players, getting to know the university and its policies. The Spartan way. I’ve seen it as an outsider, now I have to learn it as an insider.”

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Joe Rexrode
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