EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – When Mat Ishbia stepped up to the podium on Friday morning to explain why he felt the need to donate a historic $32 million to his alma mater he immediately deflected all the praise away from him.
“He says I give him too much credit, but I don’t think I give him enough credit,” said Ishbia when reflecting on how much Tom Izzo has meant to him. “I’ve been able to grow as a person, as a father, as an adult, as a leader, and it’s all tied to Coach Izzo.”
As a former walk-on on Michigan State’s 2000 national championship team Ishbia said it would have been easy for his teammates like All-American Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, and Izzo to dismiss him, but instead they treated him like family.
“I’ll never forget the way they made you feel,” said Ishbia. “I got to be here at an amazing time. Three Final Fours, three Big Ten Championships and you know I got to ride the bench, but at the same time I felt like I was a part of it just like every body else.”
It was one of the driving factors behind his donation. Ishbia was a part of the Spartans’ program for five years, four as a walk-on, and in his fifth year he was a student assistant coach. On Friday, he and Izzo both joked about how he originally thought he wanted to be a coach, but instead decided to go the business route.
“You know I thought I was working hard back then, and then I saw how a real grown up works at a different level,” said Ishbia. “His work ethic, his drive, and then his compassion for people is something I always remember. That is something I never forgot and I do that with the 8,000 people in my company.”
Izzo has never been one to hide his emotions and Friday was certainly not the day where the Hall of Fame coach was going to became all stiff and rigid. Not when one of his former players did something that no one in the history of MSU Athletics has ever done. His $32 million donation is the largest from an individual and when he thanked Ishbia he not only told him that he loved him, but he was instantly brought to tears.
“I don’t deserve the praise you’ve given me,” said Izzo. “You didn’t get here because of what I did for you. You got here because of the job you took and did yourself. I love self-motivated people. I love people that aren’t afraid of a challenge. Football, basketball, all these other sports – you covered ’em all my man. You’ve done good as they say in the U.P.”
A large portion, as in $20 of the $32 million, is going to the football program to construct an expansion of the Skandalaris Center. Ishbia also made sure to point out in his donation that the new football building, as well as the court at the Breslin Center, be named in honor of Izzo.
“Coach Izzo, he means a lot to all of us, and certainly to Mat as demonstrated by this historic gift,” said Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker. “It will be an honor to have Tom Izzo’s name associated with the building that will have such a major impact on our program.”
Ishbia, the current chairman, president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), the largest wholesale mortgage company in the nation for six years running, and No. 2 overall mortgage lender, recently guided his company — which was a 12-person family business when he joined in 2003 and is now a team of over 8,000 people — to the biggest Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPAC) merger in United States history. On January 22, 2021, Ishbia rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange signifying the momentous accomplishment.