While Rick Carlisle is the leading candidate for the Chicago Bulls coaching job, multiple league sources say that an intriguing name has gained momentum within the franchise's front office: Michigan State's Tom Izzo.
Bulls GM John Paxson granted Carlisle the first interview in the process, two league sources said, and Carlisle made a strong impression. But Chicago officials were still busy gathering intelligence on him Tuesday, reaching out around the league to those who had worked with him at stops with the Pacers and Pistons.
Nevertheless, the search won't be limited to Carlisle. There's been much internal discussion over Izzo, whom many NBA officials believe is one of the rare college coaches who can make the transition to the pros.
When reached on Tuesday night, Izzo told Yahoo! Sports that he hadn't been contacted by the Bulls, but sounded willing to discuss the job with them.
"I'm not counting out any (job openings) because you can't," Izzo said. "College or pro.
"I go back and forth on (coaching in the NBA)," he continued. "I still think it's the ultimate level. There is something about it. I look at it and say, 'It's a real challenge.' But I love what I do too. I go down and look at what the Pistons (coaches) do in preparation and I think, 'That's insane.'
"But I look at what I do in terms of recruiting and I think, 'That's insane.' "
The Bulls are under the impression, sources said, that Izzo is eager to speak with them. Some believe he has grown restless in East Lansing, and it's believed he would've become the Kansas coach had Bill Self taken the Oklahoma State job.
This could make Izzo, 53, a wild card in this search. He is one of the dominant coaches in the college game, responsible for four Final Fours and the 2000 NCAA title at Michigan State. Even after turning down the Atlanta Hawks within weeks of his national championship and another overture from the Toronto Raptors in 2003, Izzo has long been a student of the NBA coaching game.
He is also represented by Lonnie Cooper, the most powerful pro and college coaching agent in the business.
While college coaches have historically struggled in the pros, most have been hired to struggling franchises. Izzo thought long and hard about the five-year, $15 million offer the Hawks made him eight years ago – at the time, a gold mine for a college coach – but ultimately was convinced that he had little chance to be successful what with the dysfunctional state of the Hawks franchise.
For a son of the Midwest like Izzo, though, the Bulls job would have a different appeal. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is believed to have some hesitation about hiring a college coach. His experiment with Iowa State's Tim Floyd had disastrous results following his hiring in1998. Memphis coach John Calipari has tried to get involved with the Bulls job, but has been rebuffed, sources said.
Izzo, who has spent nearly his entire career as either an assistant or head coach in East Lansing, said he can't say yet what he'd do if the Bulls call. He returns the bulk of a team that went to the Sweet 16 and has another strong recruiting class. Still, he could be at a coaching crossroad in his career, when a fresh challenge could be the preferred path.
"Until I hear something," Izzo said, "it's hard to say."