Izzo serious about leaving? Who's heir apparent?

If Izzo is serious about making a jump to the pros, it is imperative that the Michigan State brass - especially AD Ron Mason - be prepared to move quickly to fill the void with a top quality candidate and not flounder the way that did with the Bobby Williams situation.

(DETROIT, MI) - The word that is filtering down out of Toronto, ON., is that MSU head coach Tom Izzo is the leading candidate to take over as head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Izzo reportedly interviewed for the job last weekend in Toronto.

Izzo would be following the lead of another former Michigan State basketball coach, Mike Montgomery, who left a cushy NCAA job at Stanford to take an NBA job, atop the Golden State Warriors program.

If Izzo is serious about making a jump to the pros, it is imperative that the Michigan State brass - especially AD Ron Mason - be prepared to move quickly to fill the void with a top quality candidate and not flounder the way they did with the Bobby Williams situation.

The Spartan program is a delicate position.

Izzo appears to be struggling to attract the same level of top flight players as they have in the past. The de-commitment of former Bay City Central standout Eric Devendorf was said to have stung the Spartan head man.

Some sources say he is ready for a new challenge and is tiring of trying to convince young men to play in East Lansing. Others say he just likes to learn about how top notch basketball programs, including NBA programs, are run and isn't serious about the Raptors job.

However, finding top notch talent to fill a number of openings on his bench have become increasingly difficult.

Second year man Doug Wojcik, a former assistant at North Carolina is making the transition from recruiting on the east coast while promising assistant Dwayne Stephens, the former Ferndale standout player, appears to have a bit left to learn.

Several high profile MSU assistants have moved on to take over atop other programs and all of those assistants should be on Mason's short list.

At the top of the list should be Marquette head coach Tom Crean. Crean in his sixth season at Marquette, has built the Golden Eagles program back into a force in college basketball.

Crean left the Spartans after their Final Four appearance in 2000 to take over at Marquette. After back-to-back 15-14 seasons, the Eagles posted 27 and 26 win seasons before falling back somewhat in 2003 to 19-12.

Crean likely knows that he cannot sustain the success he is having at Marquette. It isn't often that he can find and retain players like former Marquette and Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade, and would likely chomp at the bit for a chance to recruit and battle the best in the Big Ten. He was Izzo's top assistant and carried the label Associate Head Coach. Crean would be a smooth transistion from the Izzo era.

He would satisfy MSU's desire for a long term stay in East Lansing and would likely be very succesful building a staff and attracting talent from the Michigan/Illinois/Indiana hotbeds of recruiting talent.

If not Crean, then next on the list could be Arkansas head coach Stan Heath. Another former MSU assistant under Izzo. Heath left the Michigan State program a year after Crean, moving to Kent State. He promptly put the Golden Flashes in the NCAA tournament including a trip to the Elite Eight behind the amazing Antonio Gates.

But Heath may have jumped into the proverbial frying pan after leaving Kent State for Arkansas. As successor to the volatile Nolan Richardson he posted a disappointing 9-19 first year record. He inherits a messy situation which includes a lawsuit by Richardson against the University, infighting among school officials over his dismissal and charges of racial prejudice by Richardson who was dismissed a season ago.

More troubling for the Spartans brass might be Heath's flashy website (stanheath.com), his penchant for self-promotion and his willingness to listen to all offers. They might be nervous, feeling Heath could be a short term hire.

The darkhorse in all of this could be Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson would be attractive for a number of reasons.

First, he is an established coach with a successful track record who doesn't like to move around.

Second, with Michigan State's commitment to diversity, hiring the only Native American coach to make it to the Final Four would likely appeal to the MSU brass.

Third, and most significant, Sampson holds a masters degree from Michigan State and coached at MSU under Jud Heathcoat.

Longshot candidates might be former Izzo assistants Cleveland State head coach Mike Garland, Toledo's Stan Joplin and Dayton's Brian Gregory.

Mason has to be careful and move with at least as much stealth as he did when hiring John L. Smith out from under the noses of Louisville. Any coach who gets his name publicly attached a potential MSU opening will be forced to disassociate himself from the potential job to avoid alienating his superiors.

Mason has to speak to the coaches agents, find out their level of interest and get some verbal assurances before asking to speak to his target.

He needs to have contract parameters outlined so that MSU can move swiftly and gracefully to usher in a new era of basketball if the Izzo era is indeed about to end.


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