If Izzo leaves, what's next for MSU?

June, 8, 2010
6/08/10
12:25
PM ET
Allow me to attach this disclaimer right off the bat: It's way, way, way too early to start thinking about Michigan State's next head coach. Tom Izzo still hasn't confirmed any interest in the Cleveland Cavaliers job; it's unclear whether he has any; and even if he did, that interest would hinge on whether LeBron James plans on returning to Cleveland when his free agency officially begins in 23 days. No LeBron means no Izzo. This process is still developing.

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
Elsa/Getty ImagesIf Tom Izzo leaves, there's no clear succesor currently on Michigan State's staff.
That doesn't mean Michigan State supporters aren't a little more than freaked out, and they're not just freaked out because Izzo seems to be flirting with an NBA job. That's more than enough to induce freakout mode, to be sure. But part of the reason for that anxiety is that if Izzo leaves, it's not exactly clear who would inherit the Michigan State program Izzo has shepherded so masterfully in his 15 years at the school.

The Only Colors' KJ summed this up nicely today:

At the end of the day, this story is panic-inducing not so much because I think there's a high probability Izzo will leave, but because the consequences are potentially so earth-shattering. There's no clear heir apparent to take over as MSU's head coach. Promoting the top assistant only makes sense when there's a transition period before the promotion happens. With Tom Crean's move to IU and the mini-implosion of Jim Boylen's Utah's team this past season, Brian Gregory would seem like the logical choice among former Izzo assistants. He'd be a solid choice, but it's worth nothing he's only made the NCAA Tournament twice in seven years at Dayton--the first appearance occurring in his first season there. (He also won the NIT championship this past season.) If Izzo really left, MSU would have to take a hard look at hiring a well-established coach from another program with lesser financial resources (two names that jump out at me: Brad Stevens, Jamie Dixon).

That's about right. Izzo doesn't seem to have established any of his current assistants as names most MSU fans and boosters would be excited about hiring. Meanwhile, Michigan State under Izzo has become a national program, the kind of place that should attract coaching talent thanks to its tradition, facilities, recruiting advantages (many of which can be attributed to Izzo's design) and profile.

Which means a protracted coaching search. Which means Michigan State has to initiate the coaching carousel at a time in the offseason calendar when most of the coaches who were planning on making a move somewhere have already done so. Which means hiring a coach away from a school. Which means a buyout. Which means (lots of) money. Which means ... well, you get the point. It won't be easy.

The Spartans still seem to be a long way away from losing their beloved coach. That's good news, because if Izzo does leave, he doesn't just leave his collegiate home behind. He leaves a gaping coaching crater, and it will be nigh impossible to find someone qualified enough to fill it.

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