Cavaliers set sights on MSU’s Izzo

Published 1:25 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tom Izzo has another suitor.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told The Associated Press on Monday the Cleveland Cavaliers are interested in replacing fired coach Mike Brown with Izzo.

“There is not a contract offer on the table,” Hollis said in a telephone interview. “Last week, there was talk that Chicago and New Jersey were interested. If I was anywhere but at Michigan State, I would be interested in Tom, too, because he’s the best coach in college basketball.”

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The News-Herald of Willoughby, Ohio, reported Sunday the Cavaliers have made an offer to Izzo, citing an unidentified league source.

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Monday that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert discussed the framework of a deal, worth about $6 million a season for up to five years, with perks such as using one of his private jets.

“As far as I know, nothing has changed,” Hollis said.

Izzo has chosen not to confirm or deny the reports.

“I’ve taken the no-comment-on-all-of-it policy, which is a little bit unlike Tom Izzo,” he said Monday night in an interview with WILS radio in Lansing, Mich. “But I’ve been very consistent with that. And maybe to close it up, I would just say there are so many things out there that are so far-fetched right now.

“I’m the Michigan State coach and that’s what I’m going to do right now. Who knows what the future brings? But it sure isn’t at all like it’s maybe being speculated.”

Izzo didn’t respond to messages from the AP by phone and text.

Gilbert reiterated in an e-mail to the AP the team’s policy is to not comment on “any rumor about potential new hires, trades, free agent signing, etc.” Complicating his coaching search is the uncertainty surrounding LeBron James, the jewel of the marketplace when free agency opens July 1. James said in an interview last week Cleveland has “an edge” in re-signing him.

Izzo has been regularly mentioned as a candidate for NBA and other college jobs since Michigan State won a national championship in 2000, when he turned down the Atlanta Hawks. They wound up hiring Lon Kruger, who joined a long list of college coaches who failed in the league.

“I’m not worried,” Hollis insisted. “But Tom has to make the decision that is best for his immediate family.”

As a relentless recruiter and respected tactician, Izzo has turned a good program into a great one at Michigan State.

He led the Spartans to the Final Four six time in 12 seasons. The late John Wooden at UCLA and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski are the only other coaches who have accomplished that feat.

Izzo makes more than $3 million a season and is under contract through 2016. Kentucky gave John Calipari an eight-year contract topping $31 million last year, the largest known deal for a college basketball coach.

If the Cavs want Izzo, they could offer him a chance to make twice as much as he does in East Lansing, where he has deep roots. Izzo was born in native of Iron Mountain, Mich., and has been Michigan State’s coach since the 1995-96 season, when he was promoted to replace retiring mentor Jud Heathcote.

Izzo is believed to be on the short list of candidates preferred by Gilbert, a Michigan State graduate, who didn’t ask Hollis for permission to talk to Izzo.

“That’s not normal protocol when you’re talking about pro teams going after college coaches,” Hollis said. “Dan is a great Spartan and I have a lot of respect for him with what he’s done in the NBA and with his business.”

Gilbert is the founder of Michigan-based Quicken Loans Inc. His team is in the midst of a summer overhaul. In addition to James’ free agency and the coaching search, general manager Danny Ferry resigned last week.

During a conference call after Ferry’s split, Gilbert didn’t say if the Cavs had interviewed any coaching candidates. The team has inquired about former New Orleans coach Byron Scott and Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson.

Shaquille O’Neal, who played for the Cavs last season, posted on Twitter: “I think brian shaw should get interviewed for that cleveland cavaliers job, he’s really good.”

Assistant GM Chris Grant has taken over for Ferry, who guided the Cavs through their most successful run. The Cavs made it past the first round in each of Ferry’s five seasons, but didn’t advance to the finals the past two years despite successful regular seasons. Gilbert and Grant have a news conference scheduled for Tuesday at the team’s training facility.

On Friday, Gilbert said he was “moving very quickly” in his search to replace Brown, who won 143 games the past two seasons. Gilbert said it would be ideal to have a coach in place by July 1, but wasn’t sure that would happen.

Gilbert has long been impressed with Izzo. At a late-season game in Cleveland, months before his team’s playoff flop, Gilbert said Izzo was “one of the nicest guys I’ve met” and praised his defensive philosophy.

Hollis said he talked to Izzo on Monday and several times over the weekend, insisting that wasn’t unusual because they have been friends for more than two decades. Izzo was the best man at Hollis’ wedding and the two were roommates when starting careers at Michigan State.

“I know Dan and Tom talk and that Dan has reached out to talk to Tom in the past,” Hollis said. “The only other thing I can tell you at this point is there is a strong interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers in Tom Izzo.”