INDIANAPOLIS – This is Tom Izzo's sixth Final Four in the past 12 years.
The Michigan State coach has won a national championship and become arguably the most successful college basketball coach in the country over the last decade or so.
Usually, that means you're ripe for the picking.
It's when your peers try and come up with anything they can to tear you down from the pedestal.
There's negative recruiting. Accusations. You name it.
Mike Krzyzewski has been called arrogant. There are those who question whether Roy Williams can coach. Nearly every time John Calipari lands a top recruit, whispers abound whether he did anything illegal.
Those in the industry feed on you when you get to the top.
But there's none of that with Izzo.
The guy is considered humble, is one of the top X's and O's guys in the business and I've never, ever heard anyone question his cleanliness in recruiting circles.
"When you speak to everyone, everyone you talk to likes him -- in and out of the league," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, whose team will oppose fifth-seeded Michigan State Saturday night in the Final Four. "He's a really good person and a role model for younger coaches."
"He hasn't changed -- at all," added Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt. "He's the same humble guy he's always been."
In other words, Izzo just may be the perfect coach.
He's turned down multiple NBA, higher-profile and higher-paid college jobs to remain at Michigan State -- a place he has spent 27 years as an assistant and head coach.
"I love it here," Izzo said earlier this year. "I couldn't imagine being anywhere else."
He's a reporter's dream because of his willingness to be candid -- almost to a fault. There are always open practices, and he often gives tours of his memorabilia shrine in the basement of his house.
The 55-year-old Izzo just gets it.
Sure, there are times when even he can lose his cool, which he did a couple of weeks ago after he felt a few local reporters crossed the line by calling Chris Allen and Kalin Lucas' parents in an attempt to find out why Allen had been suspended and Lucas had been tossed out of practice.
But Izzo rarely has long-standing issues with reporters, peers or even his players.
Even with his intense, workaholic, hard-nosed approach, somehow -- in this day and age when most kids want to be coddled -- Izzo finds a way to connect with his players and gets them to buy into his approach.
Commonly, there are 2 1/2-hour practices in which Izzo drops countless profanities on his players. Former guard Travis Walton, now a graduate assistant, recalls one incident his freshman season after committing a turnover.
Izzo yelled at him to go down and sit at the end of the bench. Walton went down and sat next to the equipment manager toward the end of the bench, but it wasn't quite far enough for Izzo, who basically undressed Walton in front of the entire crowd by sending him to a stool all alone at the very end.
Yet guys like Walton, Mateeen Cleaves or the current group rarely have anything negative to say about him -- whether they're in East Lansing or after they have left, on or off the record.
"He's tough, but he's a Hall of Famer who you can talk to at any time about anything," Walton said.
"Off the court, he's a father figure," Michigan State sophomore Delvon Roe added. "On the court, he's the person you can't stand."
"But he's the main reason I came to Michigan State," Roe added. "He makes you realize he's not doing it to hurt you. We're all trying to get to the same point."
Durrell Summers, who has emerged as the Spartans' top scoring threat in the NCAA tournament, had his issues with Izzo. In fact, he was benched in the second half of the Big Ten quarterfinals loss against Minnesota.
But Summers understands.
"As hard as he is on us, that's how he is with his staff and himself," Summers said. "You know he's got your best interest at heart."
His news conferences are filled with laughter and honesty. Take five of the best from Thursday's edition:
- He spoke about how, a year after he said he was playing for the city of Detroit, now he's "playing for Indianapolis."
- He talked candidly about how it drives him to join a small fraternity of coaches who have won multiple national championships.
- He mentioned that senior forward Raymar Morgan has had an incredibly successful career, but it still leaves you wanting more.
- He acknowledged how the players-only meeting that went down recently may not have happened without the nudge to one of those players.
- He had plenty of time to work on his post-game talk after the lopsided loss to North Carolina in the national title game a year ago. "I had a long time to think about what to say," he said. "Since about three minutes into the game."
Praise has been heaped on Izzo for taking a Michigan State team that is without its starting point guard, Kalin Lucas, and also has two players gutting it out with significant injuries -- Delvon Roe (knee) and Chris Allen (foot) -- within two games of winning a second national title.
But he won't have it.
"It's the players," Izzo said. "People give me way too much credit."
"He's the kind of guy who will talk to anyone," Walton said of his former coach. "It doesn't matter who it is. He's the same way with everyone."
And that's why no one brings him down. There's just no need.