PHOTO: Tom Izzo leads the Michigan State’s football team onto the field as a guest captain.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
It’s been the worst of times in Michigan State football’s strange season abnormally stripped of stability, so let’s take a break from the heartache and wistfully imagine this was the best of times:
Tom Izzo is the Spartans’ head football coach, and he’s leading the players out of the tunnel to face Michigan Saturday night at Spartan Stadium. What would you give to be a fly on the locker-room wall for his pre-game speech?
OK, yes, I know, he’s got a basketball team coach. That’s my point. He’s been going strong for what is now on the eve of his 29th season. Thankfully, Izzo has turned down overtures from the NBA — the two we know about, Atlanta and Cleveland, and many that remained under the radar.
His 29 seasons is 10 more than the stability Spartan Nation has enjoyed with Jud Heathcote as the basketball coach, 1976-77 to 1994-95.
And it’s 16 more than the renewed stability Mark Dantonio brought to the football program, 2007-2019.
Yes, imagine Michigan State football with Izzo stability.
And before you scoff at the notion Izzo could a coach Power 5 football program, allow me to quote a Izzo childhood friend with Power 5 and NFL head coaching experience:
Yep, Steve Mariucci: “The coaching umbrella encompasses a lot things common to all sports in terms of recruiting, motivating, administrative work, the ability to hire a good coaching staff, work ethic, common sense and the ability to keep kids eligible. All of that doesn’t matter what sport you’re coaching – it’s the common denominator. Tom has all those qualities.”
Mariucci, who is now an NFL Network analyst, was a long-time college and NFL assistant coach before he was the head coach at Cal (1987-89), the San Francisco 49ers (1997-2002) and the Detroit Lions (2003-05).
And nobody knows Izzo better than Mariucci – high school teammate at Iron Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and his college roommate at Northern Michigan University. They’ve remained steadfast friends 40-plus years after they were college roommates – a true test of friendship.
At Northern Michigan, Izzo was the basketball point guard. Mariucci was the football quarterback who led the NMU to the 1975 NCAA Division II football title.
Izzo enjoyed watching his friend and the football team’s success so much, he couldn’t control his football fury we’ve been watching explode for decades on the basketball sideline. Izzo came out for the team in spring football. It took Mariucci to convince him to go back to leading the basketball program.
Not because he couldn’t play. Because if he explained to Izzo, the basketball program needed him. What if he got hurt playing football. Mariucci is probably the only person Izzo would have listened to.
Click here for the rest of the story. Double-duty Izzo and the day Mariucci nixed his college football career
And, by the way, this wistful story about Izzo is in no way meant as criticism of interim head coach Harlon Barnett. I’ve written Michigan State is fortunate to have him taking over an untenable position: Harlon Barnett is the right man for the job but what happens next?
But all that aside as football season overlaps into basketball, imagine Izzo on the sidelines Saturday night across from Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. Oh, what at sight to dream about, even though it’s wistfully.
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Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read a summary.
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RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
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