“It was a good hire for me,” Spartan coach Tom Izzo said. “I added a guy who is a blue-collar guy. I love a guy who played for Bobby Knight. I wanted that.”
Both Fife and Izzo have taken turns spurning the other in earlier stages of their careers, so it is interesting that they ultimately made the relationship connect.
As a senior at Clarkston High School, Fife earned the Mr. Basketball Award in the state of Michigan, yet accepted a scholarship to Indiana, not Michigan State.
“It's funny, when I recruited Dane, and he chose Indiana, he chose Bobby Knight, I was half-mad at him,” Izzo explained. “But I always respected him.”
During Fife's time at Bloomington, Knight was shockingly fired and the young player sought Izzo's advice on how to handle the situation, with transferring to Michigan State being an option. However, Izzo advised Fife to stay put and become a leader within the Hoosier program, not to jump ship.
After Fife's graduation, he remained in touch with Izzo and sought the coach's assistance in landing the IPFW job.
“I don't know if I became his adviser, but when he looked at the IPFW job, I talked to Dane about it and tried to help him,” Izzo said. “He came up (to East Lansing) a lot and stayed in touch with the program.”
Izzo brought Fife on board in spring 2011 and being a former guard himself, Fife began the project of developing converting guard Keith Appling from a shooting guard into a point guard. One year later, Appling is rated as the seventh-best point guard in the country.
“Coach Fife is a real good guy and I like playing for him,” Appling said. “I can tell from his playing days that he was a real aggressive, climb-into-you guy, because that is something that he preaches to us.”
Yes, Fife was 'aggressive' and then some.
His presence in working with the Spartan perimeter players paid off handsomely, particularly at the defensive end of the floor last season. The Spartans held opponents to under 38 percent shooting, which was second best in the nation and the program's best defensive effort in 52 years.
In addition to his coaching acumen, Izzo said that Fife will be invaluable in recruiting the state of Indiana and Illinois. That has already shown by the signing of Indiana Mr. Basketball Gary Harris last fall from Hamilton Southeastern High School.
“I wanted a guy that had a little bit of recruiting experience in Indiana and Illinois,” Izzo said. “We needed that.”
Izzo also finds it beneficial to be able to speak with a member of his staff who can relate to the role of a head coach.
“I think sometimes it is (beneficial),” Izzo said. “It is good to have a guy who has been where I am at, but once in a while I have to remind him 'Did you forget where you came from?' The head coach is supposed to do this, and the assistants are supposed to do that. But he remembers quickly.”