For the second time in two years, Tom Izzo has lost one of Michigan State’s top basketball assistants.
Spartans associate head coach Dwayne Stephens has agreed to become Western Michigan’s next head coach after spending the past 19 seasons on Izzo’s team, a source confirmed to the Free Press on Monday. WMU made the hiring official later that afternoon.
“Thanking (Izzo) for what I learned and for our friendship is not enough,” Stephens said in a statement. “I’m going to take all of those lessons with me to West Michigan, which I think is a perfect place for me as a head coach.
“I consider myself a blue collar coach, who is a grinder and will work tirelessly to make Western Michigan one of the best in the Mid-American Conference and take the program to new heights.”
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It will be the first head coaching job for Stephens, 50, a Ferndale native who has been a contender for several roles over the past two decades.
Stephens played for the Spartans from 1989 to 1993, then joined the coaching staff in 2003 after a four-year stint as an assistant coach at Marquette under former Izzo assistant Tom Crean, which included a appearance in the 2003 Final Four. He also coached at Oakland for two seasons as an assistant under Greg Kampe during the Golden Grizzlies’ transition to Division I.
“DJ is an absolute rookie for West Michigan. His knowledge of basketball and his thirst for recruiting is exceptional,” Crean said in a statement. “I hadn’t seen him in training for a long time and I was blown away by his leadership and passion recently when I saw the Spartans training. He’s got it all.”
During Stephens’ time on the Izzo team, MSU went to five Final Fours, won six Big Ten regular season titles, won four postseason tournament crowns, and produced a record 477- 189. He has primarily worked with post players, including six NBA drafts: Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, Deyonta Davis, Brandon Dawson, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. Stephens has also handled replacements in recent years for Izzo.
“Dwayne has been more than ready to run his own program for a long time, and I think West Michigan is on its way to getting a star,” Izzo said in a statement. “Dwayne is a great basketball coach and a great person, who will be a great leader for his program and his community. …
“I’ve known DJ from his playing days, and even then you could tell he would be an exceptional coach because he’s an exceptional worker, a high achiever and a great scout. We’ve seen that since the day he started here. He has a great understanding of the game and an ability to extend that to the young men he coaches.”
A year ago, Dane Fife left Izzo’s coaching staff after 10 seasons for his alma mater Indiana. He was not retained by Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson after that season.
Izzo brought back two assistants for the 2021-22 season who had previously worked in his squad – the promotion of Doug Wojcik and the hiring of Mark Montgomery following the departure from Fife. Izzo’s longtime confidant Mike Garland also moved from coaching to special assistant ahead of the season.
The Broncos are 8-23 overall and 4-16 in the Mid-American Conference this season under Clayton Bates, who resigned last month after going 13-39 the past two seasons . WMU used Glenn Sugiyama, an MSU alum who helped the Spartans hire football coach Mel Tucker in 2020, to help with his search process which landed on Stephens.
“From our earliest conversations, DJ rose to the top of an incredibly competitive pool of candidates as the right choice to lead our men’s basketball program to excellence,” said WMU Athletic Director Dan. Bartholomae, in a press release. “His reputation as one of the most elite scouts in the country and his experience in developing some of the best basketball athletes in the world have separated him as one of the most outstanding basketball coaches in the country. However, it was his sincere and genuine personality, coupled with his commitment to the holistic development of our student-athletes, that made him the best candidate for our position.”