Steve Sarkisian: I want Michigan State basketball's senior leadership

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday April 23, 2015

As Steve Sarkisian heads into his second season as USC head coach, he’s looking at Michigan State basketball as a program he wants to emulate.

The Trojans are still hamstrung a bit with a limited roster due to past scholarship reductions, but there are 19 seniors on the squad, and Sarkisian pointed to the Spartans of an example of what senior leadership can do.

Last month, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team reached the Final Four as a No. 7 seed, and Izzo credited the chemistry and senior leadership. That’s what Sarkisian is pointing to.

“You see it all the time in different sports,” Sarkisian said on The Tim Brando Show. “I think about Michigan State basketball. Those teams they have, those senior leaders they have. It’s one thing to have young players, which we’re going to have, but when you have veteran leadership, it goes a long, long way.”

It helps a coach let players have ownership of the team. If you have a culture in place, coaches can trust players to freelance and make the right plays at the right times.

Sarkisian talked about stepping back and letting the players loose during games as a coach, but there has to be a trust factor.

One of the hardest parts about coaching is that we want to coach everything so well and so hard, but sometimes, you have to let athletes be athletes,” Sarkisian said, “That’s part of the challenge. Making sure we’re remaining disciplined in our fundamentals, technique and scheme, but yet, we are allowing our football players to be football players. (Star players) play the game a little bit differently. They see the game a little bit different.

“I remember being a young assistant here, and Troy Polamalu played strong safety. We ran an inside zone play, and he tackled the running back in the backfield for a loss of three yards. I looked at the script thinking that wasn’t supposed to be a strong safety blitz. It wasn’t a strong safety blitz. It was Troy using his instincts to go make the play. That’s the part of coaching that’s unique. Where is that fine line of allowing your great players to use their instincts, their god-given talents to go make those plays, but yet stay within the confines of the scheme?”

USC opens the 2015 season with home games against Arkansas State, Idaho and Stanford.

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to