For the second time in two years, Tom Izzo is losing a top Michigan State basketball assistant.
Spartans associate head coach Dwayne Stephens has agreed to become the next head coach at Western Michigan after spending the past 19 seasons on Izzo’s staff, a source confirmed with the Free Press on Monday. WMU made the hiring official later that afternoon.
“Saying thanks to (Izzo) for what I’ve learned and for our friendship isn’t enough,” Stephens said in a statement. “I will carry all of those lessons with me to Western 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 I 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 position for the Stephens, 50, a Ferndale native who has been a candidate for multiple positions over the past two decades.
Stephens played for the Spartans from 1989-93, then joined the coaching staff in 2003 after a four-year stint as an assistant coach at Marquette under former Izzo assistant Tom Crean that included an appearance in the 2003 Final Four. He also coached at Oakland for two seasons as an assistant under Greg Kampe as the Golden Grizzlies transitioned to Division I.
“DJ is an absolute home run hire for Western Michigan. His knowledge of basketball and thirst for recruiting is outstanding,” Crean said in a statement. “I hadn’t seen him in practice in a long time and was blown away by his leadership and passion recently when I saw the Spartans practice. He’s got the whole package.”
During Stephens’ time on Izzo’s staff, MSU went to five Final Fours, won six Big Ten regular-season titles, won four postseason tournament crowns and produced a 477-189 record. He efficiently has worked with post players, including six drafted into the NBA: Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, Deyonta Davis, Brandon Dawson, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. Stephens also handled substitutions in recent years for Izzo.
“Dwayne has been more than ready to run his own program for a long time, and I think Western Michigan is getting an all-star,” Izzo said in a statement. “Dwayne is a terrific basketball coach and a great person, who will be a tremendous leader for their program and community. …
“I’ve known DJ since his playing days, and even then, you could tell he would be an exceptional coach because he is an outstanding worker, a high achiever and a great recruiter. 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 staff after 10 seasons for his alma mater Indiana. He was not retained by Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson after this season.
Izzo brought back two assistants for the 2021-22 season who previously had worked on his staff — promoting Doug Wojcik and hiring Mark Montgomery after Fife’s departure. Longtime Izzo confidante Mike Garland also shifted his role from coaching to special assistant before the season.
The Broncos went 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 MSU alum Glenn Sugiyama, who helped the Spartans hire football coach Mel Tucker in 2020, to assist in its search process that landed on Stephens.
“From our earliest conversations, DJ rose to the top of an incredibly competitive candidate pool as the right choice to lead our men’s basketball program to excellence,” WMU athletic director Dan Bartholomae said in a statement. “His reputation as one of the nation’s most elite recruiters and his experience in developing some of the world’s finest basketball athletes separated him as one of the country’s most outstanding basketball coaches. However, he was his sincere and authentic personality, coupled with his commitment to the holistic development of our student-athletes, that made him the best fit for our position.”
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