Izzo meets with Spartans

Updated: June 10, 2010, 10:55 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Michigan State's Tom Izzo told his team he has talked to the Cleveland Cavaliers about their coaching vacancy, and implored the players to concentrate on their classes and workouts to get better on and off the court.

"That was the gist of the meeting yesterday," associate head coach Mark Montgomery told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Izzo did not tell the Spartans he was leaving the school to coach the Cavs.

Izzo told the team that Cleveland has a big interest in him and that he has a lot of thinking to do about it, a school source who was at the meeting told ESPN.com's Andy Katz.

But Izzo did not give any indication that he would accept the job, according to the source.

Sources confirmed Monday to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that the Cavaliers officially had extended an offer to Izzo.

Citing a Michigan State source, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Izzo has scheduled a Thursday trip to Cleveland to meet with Cavs officials.

His decision, which could come within days or drag out for a month, might hinge on whether LeBron James re-signs with the Cavaliers.

A text message was sent Wednesday by the AP for Izzo, who declined to comment about Cleveland-related reports in a radio interview earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Joel Ferguson, chairman of the Michigan State Board of Trustees, said Izzo already turned down an offer from the Chicago Bulls this offseason, The Detroit News reported.

"Chicago made an offer to him," Ferguson said, according to the report. "Tom didn't run and say '[Chicago] made an offer, [so MSU] has to up the ante.' "

A source within the Bulls organization told ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell that the team did not make Izzo an offer; however, the source did acknowledge that the sides held discussions.

Ferguson said he spoke with Izzo on Monday and said the coach talked about his players and team matters, according to the report.

"We never once talked about something for Tom, so that's never been an issue. We're dealing with a person that's very happy at Michigan State," he said, according to the report.

Some of his ex-players and a former assistant coach -- along with Michigan State fans -- have been riveted to developments about a possible departure.

"I have mixed emotions," former Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves said. "Selfishly, I want him to stay at Michigan State because he's good for the school, the state and college basketball as a whole.

"But it's a great opportunity if LeBron comes back."

There's the rub.

The Cavs may not want to wait until July, the earliest James could re-sign, to hire a coach.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said James will not be consulted during the coaching search, which began when Gilbert fired Mike Brown following the team's second straight early exit in the playoffs.

General manager Chris Grant has confirmed the team has been in contact with Izzo and other candidates, but declined further comment other than to say the team didn't have a timetable. The team has reached out to ESPN analyst and former New Orleans coach Byron Scott and ESPN/ABC analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy.

Scott has emerged as a strong candidate, according to an Eastern Conference executive with knowledge of the club's thinking. Scott is now on equal footing with Izzo, according to the source.

Scott has spoken with members of the Cavaliers' front office for the past few days. Late Wednesday night, the talks took on a more serious nature. Scott is expected to have a formal interview with the team before the end of this weekend.

It is not clear how strongly Van Gundy, who has given indications that he may not want to coach next season, is considering the job.

Although Izzo, Scott and Van Gundy are at the top of the Cavs' list, the team has a handful of other candidates on its radar as well, according to league sources.

Some members of the Cavaliers' brain trust are not sold on Izzo and would prefer to consider candidates with NBA experience before settling on the Spartans' coach.

The Michigan State staff doesn't know what Izzo will do, but according to a source, the staffers still believe that ultimately he will stay with the Spartans without an assurance that James would be with the Cavs.

James said in an interview last week Cleveland has "an edge" in re-signing him.

"Whether LeBron stays or not is the million-dollar question, I'm sure, for Tom," said South Florida coach Stan Heath, one of five former Izzo assistants currently leading Division I teams. "I remember how much Tom wrestled with the opportunity the Atlanta Hawks gave him. But that wasn't a great situation like Cleveland has with a Michigan State guy as the owner and one of the top players in the game potentially on the team, so I can only imagine how hard he's thinking about this."

Like Cleaves, former Spartans Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell, who were also key players on the 2000 national championship team, are struggling to envision Izzo leaving the school that has employed him for nearly three decades.

Unless he knows James would be one of his players.

"It would take the best player in the world to get Izz away from Michigan State, where he is so rooted," said Peterson, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets. "I can't see Izzo going if LeBron doesn't stay. If you look at the college coaches who tried to break into the NBA and couldn't do it, they've been on bad teams.

"But still, I can't imagine him leaving. When you think of Michigan State, you think of Tom Izzo."

Michigan State pays Izzo more than $3 million a season and has him under contract through 2016. He has to pay the school $500,000 within 30 days of terminating his employment if he takes a job in pro or college basketball.

That wouldn't be much of a deterrent.

A person familiar with Cleveland's pursuit of Izzo told the AP on Tuesday that Gilbert and the coach have discussed terms of a possible contract that would pay Izzo up to $6 million a year for four or five seasons. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were supposed to be confidential.

Although the Cavaliers have discussed the parameters of a contract with Izzo, a source with knowledge of the talks told Broussard the reported five-year, $30 million offer is "a bit inflated" and that the job is not yet Izzo's to turn down.

Izzo did not get into specifics about the financial offer from the Cavs. But a college basketball source who has NBA experience and is friendly with Izzo said that the money offered -- reportedly $6 million -- will not change with or without James, and it remains an attractive offer to consider.

"That would be a lot of money to turn down," Bell said.

The Milwaukee Bucks guard said he would be happy for Izzo if he chooses to go to the NBA, but would be saddened that he would miss out on a chance to build a legacy in college basketball with the Spartans like Mike Krzyzewski has at Duke and Dean Smith did at North Carolina.

"Those guys had a lot of money thrown at them, but they stayed," Bell said.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said Monday the Cavs have talked to Izzo, but hadn't offered a contract, and issued a statement Wednesday to say nothing had changed.

"I am in regular contact with AD Mark Hollis," Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon said in a statement released by the school. "I can assure everyone Team MSU is all on the same page in wanting to keep Tom as a Spartan."

Grant said the Cavs are looking for a defensive-minded coach who is a "winner," strong leader and communicator.

That would fit the profile of Izzo, who has regularly been approached by NBA and NCAA teams since the Hawks offered him a contract to leave Michigan State a decade ago. Grant was with the Hawks when they made a strong push for Izzo.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown said Izzo's knowledge and passion would help him make the transition, but he would need to alter his in-your-face style that he uses at times with the Spartans.

"He would definitely have to change his strategy of how he communicates and gets his guys fired up, but that's the type of guy he is," Brown said. "He's a passionate guy about what he does and a fiery guy."

Information from ESPN.com college basketball reporter Andy Katz, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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