Originally created 05/12/00

Hawks pursue Izzo



ATLANTA -- Tom Izzo, who guided Michigan State to the NCAA championship, has talked with the Atlanta Hawks about their coaching job and reportedly is considering an offer to replace Lenny Wilkens.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday 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 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."

Izzo was on a Caribbean cruise this week with his family. He is scheduled to return to East Lansing, Mich., on Sunday, Lewandowski 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 coach, including three straight Big Ten titles and consecutive appearances in the Final Four. Izzo, 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.

Hawks general manager Pete 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," Babcock said. "We're 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."

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.

The Hawks have six players who are 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.

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.