Michigan State’s Tom Izzo told his team he has talked to the Cleveland Cavaliers about their coaching vacancy, imploring them 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.
His decision, which could come within days or drag out for a month, might hinge on whether LeBron James re-signs in Cleveland.
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.
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 he fired Mike Brown following the team’s second straight early exit in the playoffs.
Cleveland general manager Chris Grant has confirmed that 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 also had contact with former New Orleans coach Byron Scott and Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson.
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, 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.
"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.
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 Atlanta 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 time 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."