Izzo played for three teams in a 14-year NFL career (1996-2009) and was both a three-time Super Bowl champion with New England and a three-time Pro Bowler. He was credited with 275 special teams tackles in 200 regular season games and 23 more in 21 postseason games.
Izzo, 36, will assist Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn. He replaces Thomas McGaughey, who left the Giants this spring to become the special teams coordinator at LSU. The Izzo/McGaughey switch is the only change to Tom Coughlin's coaching staff since the end of the 2010 season.
"This guy is a very intense, very serious, very focused young guy trying to make a transition from being an outstanding three-time Pro Bowler, 14-years-in-the-NFL career into the coaching profession" Coughlin said. "I think our players will relate very well to a guy like this. He has the ability to speak in very straightforward terms and also very colorfully. This game is a struggle. In the long run, many times it is who is tougher, who wants it more, who is willing to pay a greater price. This guy brings all of that stuff to the table."
Although Coughlin considered candidates with prior coaching experience, he became convinced that Izzo's background and recent accomplishments as a player made him a perfect fit for the job.
"This is not a rah, rah guy," Coughlin said. "He is just, 'Okay, we are going to do this, we are going to do it the right way and we are not going to waste time.' This is an entry level job in the National Football League, special teams assistant coach, in an area where he has demonstrated expertise as a player but now must master all of the techniques and all of the strategy and all of the learning. He is very smart and very eager to do that.
"I think that this team, at this time right now … we have a veteran coach, we have a guy (Quinn) that has been around long enough to know exactly what I want. Let's get a breath of fresh air – let's get somebody that it is new to him. Let it be new to a bunch of others, too, the way he approaches it. All you have to do is be the best you can possibly be every day. And that is what I think he will bring to the table."
After finishing his career on injured reserve with the Jets in 2009 – "He will tell you, 'If somebody didn't send me to get my neck checked out, I would still be playing,'" Coughlin said – Izzo spent last season in his hometown of Houston, pondering his next move. He quickly concluded he wanted to coach.
"I wanted to stay in football and I wanted to do it at a high level," Izzo said. "I'm fortunate to be here. I know there are a lot of coaches that would love to be sitting in this chair. I'm excited that I'm here with an organization that has such a great history. It's just a first-class organization all the way around.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to get into the business that I know – what I've been doing as a player for 14 years. It's something that was a natural step for me to take. But I'm a rookie all over again as far as the coaching aspect. There's a lot to this part of the game that is different than the things I experienced as a player. But there are also things I can take from my playing career and hopefully give our guys the best coaching, which they should expect."
Izzo never played on a team with a losing record and his teams participated in the playoffs nine times, reaching five AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls. His teammates selected him as a special teams captain nine times, including eight with the Patriots.
"You want to surround yourself with good people, smart people, winners, people who know how to pay the price," Coughlin said. "I think our players will benefit greatly from him."
Izzo said, "I was very, very fortunate to play on some teams that won a lot of games and hopefully, I can bring that experience here and use that to meet the expectations they had when they hired me."
The Giants' special teams certainly have room for improvement. In 2010, the kickoff coverage team ranked fourth in the NFL. But the punt coverage and punt and kickoff return teams all finished 31st in the league.
So what, in Izzo's opinion, makes a good special teams player?
"If you generalize, number one, they have to be physically able to play at a high level in the NFL," Izzo said. "The difference is toughness, fearlessness, guys that give great effort and guys that are coachable. There are a lot of guys with talent out there. But the ones that took to coaching and did it the way it was drawn up are the ones who succeed.
"Special teams is controlled chaos. But everybody has a role and a job to do on every play. Watching tape over the years, it's the guys that consistently win one-on-one that always stood out. There are a handful of guys you can lump into that and say are great special teams players. They all have a similar makeup – tough, fearless and productive. That can be coached. That's what the kicking game requires, people to play disciplined. You can have some of those qualities, but if you don't take the coaching, it's not going to help anybody."
Izzo began his NFL career in 1996 as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. He made such a rapid and positive impact that in preseason Coach Jimmy Johnson said only two players were guaranteed to make the team – future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and Izzo. In his second NFL game, he blocked a Jeff Feagles punt. As a rookie, Izzo played in all 16 games and finished second on the team with 10 special teams tackles. He was voted the special teams alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl team and was an all-rookie selection by Pro Football Weekly.
Izzo spent the 1997 season on injured reserve after tearing an Achilles tendon in training camp. He returned the following year to play 13 games, register 21 special teams tackles and be selected as Miami's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Izzo played in all 16 games – plus his first two postseason games – in 1999, when he led team with a career-high 33 special teams tackles. He was elected the Dolphins' special teams captain. In 2000, his final season in Miami, Izzo earned his first Pro Bowl selection after finishing with a team-high 31 special teams tackles.
Prior to the 2001 season, Izzo joined New England. In his first season with the Patriots, Izzo was voted special teams captain for the first of eight consecutive seasons, led the unit with 22 tackles and helped New England defeat St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI. The following year, Izzo was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second time after leading the Patriots with 20 special teams tackles. He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after collecting six tackles in a game vs. Kansas City.
In 2003 and 2004, Izzo led New England with 31 and then 28 special teams tackles to help the Patriots win two more Super Bowls. He was a member of the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2004, when he was also an All-Pro. Izzo missed only one game from 2000-08 and was chosen for the Patriots' All-2000's team.
Izzo joined the Jets prior to the 2009 season. He was credited with 18 special teams tackles before going on injured reserve with a back injury on Dec. 10.
"I was very fortunate to play 14 years," Izzo said. "If you had asked me when I was coming out of college, one game would have been a highlight for me. My highlights were being a part of three world championship teams and playing with some great players and learning under some great coaches, whether it was Jimmy Johnson in Miami or in New England with Bill Belichick, and playing with Hall of Fame players along the way. In Miami, there was Marino, Zach Thomas is probably a future Hall of Famer, Jason Taylor – just being around some great players. And then in New England, time will tell which of those guys go on to achieve that honor, but I played with Tom Brady, Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Adam Vinatieri, Tedy Bruschi. I was around a lot of great football players."
Izzo was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at Rice University, where he played linebacker and finished fourth in school history with 301 tackles, including a record 46 for losses. As a senior, he had 121 tackles and was a team captain and consensus first-team All-Southwest Conference selection. In 2002, Izzo graduated from Rice with a degree in business.
At McCullough High School in Houston, Izzo played safety and running back. The Houston Chronicle named him its two-way Player of the Year as a senior after he tallied 131 tackles and two interceptions on defense and contributed 1,081 yards rushing, 14 receptions for 109 yards and 10 kickoff returns for 224 yards.
In 2005, Izzo and Warrick Dunn participated in an NFL-sponsored USO tour to visit troops stationed overseas. They began their trip at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where they helped open the Pat Tillman USO Center, then spent time with troops in Baghdad, Kuwait and Qatar. Izzo also visited injured military personnel at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington in 2004 and 2005.
Izzo and his wife, Mara, have a two-year-old son, Boston.