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Former Patriot Izzo looking for redemption

Posted Feb 2, 2012

For almost everybody associated with the Giants, Super Bowl XLII is marvelous memory, a career highlight, a game to be savored for a lifetime. For Larry Izzo, Giants assistant special teams coach it’s a recurring nightmare.


For almost everybody associated with the Giants, Super Bowl XLII is marvelous memory, a career highlight, a game to be savored for a lifetime.

 

For Larry Izzo, it’s a recurring nightmare.

 

Izzo wore a Patriots uniform when the Giants won that thrilling Super Bowl, 17-14, four years ago. Now he is completing his first season as the Giants’ assistant special teams coach. Izzo is the only figure from that game who has switched sides as the teams prepare to meet again in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium. So while everyone else associated with the Giants who was then part of the team can celebrate the grand achievement, Izzo laments the lost opportunity. New England entered that game with an 18-0 record.

 

“I would say that was a low moment as a player,” said Izzo, who spent eight of his 14-year career with the Patriots. “You’re there and there was a lot on the line, big picture, and we didn’t get it done. We got outplayed. Whenever you lose it sucks. Multiply that times a million and that’s like losing the Super Bowl. That’s about all I can say about that. It was a great game and all the credit goes to this team right here (the Giants) because they beat us that day.”

 

Izzo was arguably the finest special teams player of his generation. He was a frenetic, fearless, emotional player who always seemed to be moving and colliding with other players. A back injury forced him to retire following the 2009 season, his only one with the Jets. He took a year off before joining the Giants as an assistant to special teams coordinator Tom Quinn.

 

“I think he could still play,” long snapper Zak DeOssie said. “If you give him a pair of pads and a helmet, I think he could run down on a kickoff.”

 

Actually, sometimes he does – sans the equipment.

 

“He covers some kicks in practice sometimes,” kicker Lawrence Tynes said. “He’s running down there, showing guys how to do dip and rip and swim. He brings a different mindset to covering kicks and taking this job seriously.”

 

Izzo is 37 and looks as if he could still put on a helmet, run down under a punt and throttle a returner.

 

“He’s so close to playing the game that he can relate well with the players,” Quinn said. “But he understands concepts and schemes very well. So he made the transition to being a coach. He brought the work ethic that he had as a player over to the coaching side.”

 

Because Izzo played the game so well – and so recently – the players benefit from the special insight and instruction he provides.

 

“Everybody has great respect for Izzo because of what he did in the NFL as a player,” said linebacker and special teamer Chase Blackburn. “He has some great insight about ways to attack a special teams unit and different things that he and Coach Quinn come up with together. They work great together. They bounce ideas off each other. They both respect each other and can come together for a decisive answer for anything and make the players believe in the system.”

 

 “He’s so good at communication between players, which is really a big part of the deal, having a guy that can connect the coach to the players,” defensive lineman Dave Tollefson said. “Because sometimes there is a disconnect there. As an example, on special teams you might see how a certain guy on kickoff runs down the field. Well, let’s do this kind of block rather than this kind of block. It’s little things like that that are just nice to have.”

 

Izzo entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 1996. He first came to everyone’s attention in training camp when Coach Jimmy Johnson told the team only two players were guaranteed to make the roster – Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and Izzo. He spent five seasons in Miami, spending 1997 on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon, before signing with the Patriots in 2001, when New England won the first of its three Super Bowls in four years.

 

A three-time Pro Bowler, Izzo was credited with 275 special teams tackles in 200 regular season games and 23 more in 21 postseason games. Izzo never played on a team with a losing record and his teams participated in the playoffs nine times, reached five AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls. His teammates selected him as a special teams captain nine times, including eight with the Patriots.

 

Izzo enjoyed so many highlights, he can’t pick out one above the others.

 

“They are all great memories,” he said. “Watching the kick go through the goal posts in the Superdome when AV (Adam Vinatieri) hit the game winner (in Super Bowl XXXVI). Winning a Super Bowl in my hometown (Houston) in 2003. That was something that I would have never thought was possible. When you’re a kid you dream about playing in the Super Bowl, and to do it in your hometown with your family there and that whole experience of the week. Nothing beats coming in and knowing as a team you guys got the job done and no one else is better for that year. That goes for all three that we won. That feeling of accomplishment and knowing that that team will always be connected by that victory.”

 

DeOssie, a Massachusetts native, first met Izzo during his time with the Patriots.

 

“I grew up watching him in Boston and I was actually his ball boy when I was a Patriots ball boy in training camp,” DeOssie said. “I remember he was the best special teams player. He was just a madman on the kickoff team, making tackles left and right. Where I grew up, everybody knows about him. When I was a ball boy I first walked into the locker room and Larry came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you Steve DeOssie’s kid?’ I said, ‘Yeah. He said, ‘Good, you’re going to be taking care of all the linebackers.’ That’s when Larry and I first met.”

 

They reunited when Izzo joined the Giants. Throughout his playing career, Izzo thought he’d like to coach. When he was idle in 2010, he missed the game. So when Thomas McGaughey left the Giants to become the special teams coach at LSU, Izzo gladly filled the vacancy.

 

“Fortunately this opportunity came around and I couldn’t be happier as far as coming to a great organization, which has a sense of history and a winning history, a family-oriented organization from the top down,” Izzo said. “We have a great staff and players that are really coachable. If you are a rookie coach, to work with the group that we have, I can’t think of a better situation. We have a really good group and they have done a great job all year doing what we’ve asked of them and doing it with an effort level that you would expect as a coach and you just can’t say that about every group. So I’ve been fortunate that I’ve come to a place that was as attractive from a coaching standpoint.”

 

Izzo has brought new ideas and a fresh perspective to the Giants’ special teams. The players easily relate to him.

 

“He recently played the game, so he knows what guys are thinking and what they’re going to do,” Tynes said. “So I think with Tyler (Sash) and Herz (Mark Herzlich) and Jacquian (Williams) and Jonsie (Greg Jones) and Spencer (Paysinger), he’s taught them all these tricks that he knows and they’re using them. And they’re producing good results. Tyler had a ton of tackles this year and Spencer and the play Jacquian made in the playoffs against San Francisco (forcing the fumble that led to the game-winning field goal) – he shows you the little things that you can do to cheat a little bit. The refs can’t see everything and Larry had all the tricks, because he was a smaller player.”

 

“He does a real good job with the young guys as far as giving them technique things throughout practice just to try to give them a leg up on an opponent,” Blackburn said. “(He taught me) when I’m not rushing a punt, to give a different look, even when I’m protecting against the fake, to give a look to make use a man up to protect against me, make him guess.”

 

Izzo concedes he is still getting comfortable being on the other side of the coach/player relationship.

 

“That’s something I think I need to continue to work on,” he said. “There has to be a separation. I will get better at that as time goes on. You see things from their perspective sometimes that maybe to get the job done it’s probably better not to see it from that perspective. Sometimes it has to be black or white, and as a coach that is what I’m learning to do. Communication is something that is also important. You have to teach and just because you played doesn’t mean you are a good teacher. So that’s something that I want to get better at. I know what I want to see but sometimes you have to be able to show them and you have to be able to communicate and articulate exactly what their job entails in a way that they are able to understand. That’s where sometimes being a player, it helps as well because you know what needs to be said.”

 

If hurdles have existed, Izzo has attacked them as he did as a player, with all-out hustle.

 

“He never walks anywhere,” DeOssie said. “He’s always moving and always doing something. He’s a ball of energy and it just adds to our unit.”

 

The players admire Izzo, but they haven’t resisted the urge this week to pester him about Super Bowl XLII. Izzo had one special teams tackle in the game, bringing down R.W. McQuarters after a nine-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

 

“He won’t talk much about it – but we needle him a little bit about it,” Tynes said. “He said the best team won, so he’s a true pro.”

 

Now Izzo is feverishly instructing his players to do everything they can to defeat the team with which he enjoyed so much. He insists that switching sides does not feel strange.

 

“I’m not playing in the game, obviously, so it’s a different experience altogether being here from this side of things as a coach,” Izzo said. “The fact that I have history with that organization, there’s a lot of coaches on our staff that have connections on both sides. And there are coaches on their staff that have connections to the Giants – Pepper Johnson played for the Giants and now he’s a coach for the Patriots. From that perspective it’s not as unique as it might seem.

 

“It’s the Super Bowl. I’m excited to be here in any way, in any fashion. I’m trying to do my job and try to contribute to what we’re trying to accomplish the best I can. That’s the same approach I took as a player. But obviously it’s different now.”

 

On Sunday night, it will hopefully be a whole lot better.


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