Work in Sports
Report: Hawks make offer to Izzo
Posted: Friday May 12, 2000 07:43 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Tom Izzo, who guided Michigan State to the NCAA championship, talked with the Atlanta Hawks about their coaching job on Thursday and is reportedly considering an offer to replace Lenny Wilkens, according to a newspaper report.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Hawks offered Izzo a five-year contract worth more than $15 million and expect his decision by the end of the week.
Michigan State spokesman John Lewandowski said Izzo received permission from school president Peter McPherson to talk with the Hawks, who have been searching for a new coach since Wilkens resigned under pressure April 24.
"This shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone because of the great success we've had the last three years," Lewandowski said. "We understand that goes with the territory."
Lewandowski said Izzo was on a Caribbean cruise this week with his wife Lupe and 5-year-old daughter, Raquel, and was not scheduled to return to East Lansing, Mich., until Sunday.
But in its Friday editions, the Journal-Constitution said Izzo canceled his family's Disney cruise and spent Thursday with Hawks president Stan Kasten and general manager Pete Babcock.
It was unlikely that Izzo would make a decision on the Hawks offer until after returning to East Lansing on Friday, the newspaper said.
Wilkens, the winningest coach in NBA history, resigned after seven seasons with the Hawks. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years and struggled to its worst record (28-54) since moving to Atlanta in 1968.
Izzo has a 120-48 record in five seasons as head coach, including three straight Big Ten titles and back-to-back appearances in the Final Four. The 45-year-old coach, who was making about $850,000 a year, recently agreed to a new five-year, roll-over contract that would be worth $1.1 million annually, plus bonuses.
Babcock said the team would not comment on its coaching search. In the past, he has described his ideal candidate.
"We're looking for energy. We looking for someone who can provide specific direction. We're looking for someone who is committed to player development. We're looking for someone who can relate to the players," Babcock said.
Izzo, who grew up watching men carry lunch buckets on their way to work in the ore mines of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, had a special relationship with his players because of the ability to mesh his blue-collar background with a fine-tuned sense of humor.
"My players have a partnership in this team," he said during the Final Four. "It's not a dictatorship."
With a team that started three seniors and two juniors, Izzo was willing to let his players suggest plays at crucial times.
"I think that's what kind of separates coach Izzo," said Morris Peterson, a star forward on last year's team. "He can really relate to his players."
The Hawks have six players who are age 25 and younger and will get at least a top-eight draft pick this year. In addition, the team is likely to have more than $10 million in salary cap room to pursue a prominent free agent in 2001.
Izzo has been at Michigan State for 17 years, having worked previously as an assistant for Jud Heathcoat.
A current Spartans assistant, Stan Heath, spoke with Izzo on Wednesday and was told the Hawks "had expressed some interest."
"But he didn't say that's what he wanted to do," Heath told the Detroit Free Press. "I don't think there's much there. I think it's all smoke and mirrors because it's been business as usual around here. If it would have been serious, he would have brought us all in and had a meeting or something."
Only one college coach has won an NCAA title and left the next season for the NBA. Larry Brown moved to San Antonio in 1988 after leading Kansas to a national championship.
In recent years, college coaches such as Rick Pitino, P.J. Carlesimo and John Calipari have struggled after jumping to the NBA.