Izzo Upset About Heath's Firing

FAYETTEVILLE -- Tom Izzo rarely returns phone calls while on vacation.

But when the topic of the call was former Arkansas coach Stan Heath, Izzo made an exception.

Matt Larson, Michigan State's sports information contact for basketball, said there was little chance the Spartans' coach would return a call Tuesday from The Morning News. But three hours later, Izzo interrupted his precious time off.

Izzo wasn't happy. A day earlier, Izzo received 10 calls before finally getting to dial up Stan Heath, his former assistant who was fired Monday at Arkansas.

And, judging from his tone, Izzo hadn't let his frustration settle just yet.

"I'm very disappointed," Izzo said. "I'm disappointed about what happened at Arkansas, and I'm disappointed more about what this is all turning in to.

"I'm on the (National Association of Basketball Coaches) board. And I'm looking at this like, 'What is our profession coming to?'"

The two coaches' history sparked Izzo's anger. Simply put, Izzo is Heath's mentor.

Izzo was to Heath at Michigan State, what Dean Smith was to Roy Williams at North Carolina.

Heath worked for five seasons under Izzo at Michigan State, helping assemble a five-year stretch that included three straight Final Fours and a National Championship. Heath took Kent State to the "Elite Eight" during his one season in between his jobs at Michigan State and Arkansas.

Izzo cited Heath's recruiting successes and late-season surges the last two seasons as indicators of an improving future at Arkansas. Heath finished with an 82-71 record in five seasons and took Arkansas to two NCAA Tournaments (2006 and 2007).

"Losing three 1,000-point scorers from the year before is tough," Izzo said. "And then, to have a player like (Ronnie) Brewer leave early. I mean, I've had five guys go early in the last six years, and it's hurt us every time. He brought in (Patrick) Beverley, the Freshman of the Year in the SEC. He brought in (Sonny) Weems, one of the best junior college guys last year.

"It's just hard to see this happening. I'm in shock about it. I'm almost vindictive."

Though upset, Izzo said he realized that he wasn't in Arkansas, that he didn't know the particular circumstances surrounding Heath's situation.

"I'm not there, so it's kind of unfair of me to make comments," Izzo said. "They pay us the money, they have the right to do what they want. But I'd understand this more if there was some kind of cheating or bad things going on in that program. There weren't, as far as I know.

"It shouldn't surprise me. If Nolan (Richardson), one of the great guys in our profession, could get let go. If that can happen, anything can happen."

Izzo said he couldn't wait to start assisting Heath in securing another coaching position. Izzo has an opening on his staff, since Jim Boylen accepted the Utah job, but said that Heath "was a head coach" and that he'd find a job.

On that front, Heath declined to comment to The Morning News about his interest in the opening at South Florida, saying just, "We'll see."

He did, however, confirm his interest in the Tampa-based university to several Florida media outlets late Monday and Tuesday. He told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he planned to be in Atlanta, for the NABC coaches meetings and the Final Four, later this week to possibly nail down a job.

"I'm very intrigued by that kind of an opportunity to have success on a high level," Heath told The Sun-Sentinel. "I'd heard my name tossed around a little (for the South Florida job). It's a great league, with great players. Night in and night out, it's a challenge."

South Florida's interest in Heath is unknown. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the Big East school had not contacted him, Heath told The Sun-Sentinel.

Of course, The Razorback Foundation is monitoring any prospective move by Heath.

If Heath gets a head coaching job, the foundation may not owe him anything. Under Heath's buyout through the foundation, he is owed $900,000 over the next three years. The buyout ensures that Heath makes no less than $300,000 per year, said Scott Varady, general counsel for the University of Arkansas.

So, if Heath is a head coach making at least $300,000, the foundation owes him nothing, Varady explained. If Heath earns $250,000, the foundation owes $50,000. If he doesn't work at all, the university owes him the full amount. Either way, the foundation guarantees a $300,000 salary for Heath.

Thus, the stakes are high for the foundation. Next year, the foundation must pay Richardson $500,000 and contribute to a likely increase in salary for Arkansas' next coach.

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