A look into the future: the Michigan State basketball head coaching job

A look into the future: the Michigan State basketball head coaching job

In the year that the graphing calculator was invented, a young and budding assistant basketball coach from Iron Mountain, Michigan was promoted up the ladder of coaching to take over Jud Heathcote’s position as the head coach of the Michigan State Basketball team. With the Basketball Hall of Fame jacket stashed in his closet, Tom Izzo and his strict — but loving — parental mentality has been at the wheel of the Spartan basketball program for years on end. Normally, a college coach is measured by his or her social capability to look a recruit’s parent in the eye and tell them the truth about their child’s safety in college; a coach of this nature can only wish to reach the bar that Izzo has set for them. 

Fifteen years at the helm of a Power Five basketball team is bound to take its toll on anyone. In fact, “most coaches spent between three and eight years at their respective schools with Year 5 and Year 6 often marking a decision point among university power brokers” (Wittry, 2019). Izzo’s decision point came in 2010 when he was faced with numerous multi-million dollar job offers from NBA franchises like the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Izzo ultimately decided to carry out his legacy on the Red Cedar River because all of his family’s successes had blossomed in East Lansing. All in all though, Izzo’s head coaching career has spanned over a 25 year period at MSU, and I believe that his time as the leader in the suit and tie is dwindling. 

In terms of his potential successor, an internal hire along the lines of Dwayne Stephens or Dane Fife sits at the top of MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman’s potential hire list. A former Spartan himself, Dwayne Stephens began his coaching career on the first Division 1 coaching staff at Oakland University in 1998. He also clocked in four years at Marquette as an assistant coach. At Marquette, Stevens was able to jumpstart his player development skill set by mentoring a young stud by the name of Dwayne Wade. After a Final Four appearance in 2003, Stephens left Marquette and set sail for his alma mater.

For a total of 17 years, Stephens has garnered a substantial amount of Big Ten Regular Season titles, Big Ten Tournament Championship titles, and a plethora of Final Four appearances. Even though trophies are an impressive feature of the basketball facility, Stephens’s collection of high-end recruits have been his bread and butter over his tenure as an assistant coach. As the head of recruitment efforts at MSU, Coach Stephens is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the world of Big Ten Basketball. According to a number of various coaches in the NCAA, ESPN ranked Stephens among the top 15 recruiting assistants in the country.

Over his 17 year tenure, Coach Stephens both recruited and groomed several gifted collegiate athletes. Out of all the players that were under his tutelage, a four-year veteran, Draymond Green, stood out as Stephen’s most prized project. Draymond’s growth as a grit and grind player can be mirrored in his stats between his freshman and senior year in which he went from putting up 3.3 points per game in his freshman season to scoring a team-high 16.2 points per game during his senior campaign. Along with his broadening scoring ability, Green managed to grab a school record of 10.6 boards for his senior year. Not only did MSU acquire multiple individually skilled rebounders, but they also led the Big Ten Conference in rebounding for four years, also pacing the rest of the Big Ten in rebounding for 15 out of the 17 seasons Stephens has coached at MSU.

The other internal hire that will be vying for Izzo’s position is associate head coach Dane Fife. For the past eight years, Fife consistently brought his defensive intensity that he mastered back in his playing days at Indiana University. Just as Dwayne Stephens has focused on the frontcourt, Coach Fife’s intent on improving his guard group every year produced some powerhouse defenses in the history of MSU Basketball. MSU has held opponents under a .400 field goal percentage for the past six of seven years, including 2017-2018 in which the Spartans led the nation in field goal percentage allowed. Prior to his arrival in East Lansing, Fife spent six seasons as head coach at IPFW. At the time, Fife was renowned for being the youngest head coach in Division 1. Fife compiled a ton of monumental awards, as he led the Mastodons to official membership in the Summit League. Without a doubt, Coach Dane Fife possesses the inner drive to coach on the frontline of Big Ten Basketball.

As can be seen from the background information above, both Stevens and Fife will be able to preserve the Spartan family tree by utilizing their upfront access to a Hall of Fame coach in Tom Izzo. If I were in Bill Beekman’s shoes, I would personally hire Dwayne Stephens as the new Head Coach for MSU because of the countless years he has spent in East Lansing under Izzo. Don’t get me wrong, Dane Fife— an excellent coach—definitely deserves the head coaching gig; however, his eight-year MSU resume doesn’t hold up to Steven’s 17-year crusade on the green and white sideline. No matter who is hired for the job, Michigan State Basketball’s future as a National Championship contender is ever so bright.