JUDGE: Izzo helped 'recruit' Mariucci to Lions

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Clark Judge

Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo didn't save his best recruiting pitch this year for someone walking the East Lansing campus. He saved it for pro football's Steve Mariucci, and without Izzo it's uncertain if Mariucci would be coaching the Detroit today. Yeah, I know the money was good. And Mariucci returns to his home state. And there's always the attraction of working with a supportive front office. But talk to Mariucci about why he returned to coaching instead of sitting out the year, and be prepared to hear of Izzo's influence in his decision. Mariucci and Izzo aren't just friends. They're best friends, dating back to their childhood days at Iron Mountain, Mich., where they were high school teammates in football, basketball, baseball and track, and on through college where they were roommates at Northern Michigan. Each year they co-host a golf tournament in Iron Mountain to raise money for the community, and each year one is spotted at the other's game. In fact, when Michigan State opened its Midnight Madness program in October, it wasn't Izzo who opened the evening's events; it was Mariucci, appearing on videotape and asking, "Are you ready for some basketball?" Anyway, the guys like each other, and they listen to each other. Which is why Mariucci wanted to hear what Izzo had to say when the former San Francisco head coach was in Detroit last week to interview for the ' head-coaching vacancy. "We stayed up all night talking about it," said Mariucci, "and we didn't quit until 4 a.m. I told him I hadn't made a decision, but I was thinking about taking the year off. He wanted to know if I thought I was burned out or if I needed a break — physically and emotionally — and I told him I didn't think so. "Before it was over, he said, 'I'm going to tell you what I think. I don't think you're burned out, but I do think you haven't had as much fun the last two years as you should have. I don't know the reason, but I could sense it. I think if you took a year off from coaching you'd miss it. You'd find out as soon as you got back it could be just as much fun as it was, and if you found the right place you'd want to be coaching again.'" Mariucci thought about it. He thought about it later that morning. And he thought about it when he returned to California. "And I thought he was right," he said Thursday in between interviews of assistant coaches. "I'm as energized here as I've ever been. I'm not tired at all." That's a good thing for someone in Mariucci's position. There's a lot of work to be done, starting with the hiring of a coaching staff. Mariucci is expected to keep some assistants but may have to hire others. Then there's a team that was a dreadful 5-27 the past two years and is among the league's oldest. That will take a lot of work, a lot of patience and, maybe a lot of time. "There's a chance to build it," Mariucci said. "I just like the challenge and the opportunity of it right now." Which is how Tom Izzo imagined it. Lucky for the he happened to tell his best friend. Senior writer covers the NFL for and can be reached at his e-mail address:
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