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Five things to know about special teams coordinator Larry Izzo


The Washington Commanders have finalized their coaching staff for the 2024 season, and is going to spend the next few weeks providing an inside look at their backgrounds and what they can add to the team.

Next up is special teams coordinator Larry Izzo.

1. He's one of the best tacklers that Rice ever had.

Izzo was a dominant athlete in high school, starting his playing career at Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Virginia, before moving to Texas, where he spent his junior and senior seasons at McCullough High School. He played on both sides of the ball, rushing for 1,081 yards and recording 131 tackles as a senior, which earned him a scholarship at Rice University.

Once he joined the Owls, Izzo stuck to defense as a linebacker and made his mark as one of the best defenders in school history.

As a three-year starter for the Owls, Izzo established a reputation as one of the best tacklers in the Southwest Conference. His senior season was littered with accolades, from being named a team captain and a consensus All-Southwest Conference player to receiving the Jess Neely Defense Award as the team's top linebacker. He set a school record with 121 tackles, which also helped him earn an Honorable Mention All-American nod.

Aside from also helping the team reach success -- they upset Texas in 1995, which helped them earn a share of the Southwest Conference for the first time in 37 years -- Izzo left a lasting mark on the Owls' program. He ended his college career ranked fourth all-time with 301 tackles and set a school record with 46 tackles for loss.

2. He and Dan Marino have an interesting connection.

Most people wouldn't connect Izzo and Hall of Famer Dan Marino, but there was a time when they were the only real locks to make the Miami Dolphins' roster.

Izzo knew he faced a difficult path in making it to the NFL. He wasn't getting much attention as other prospects and had to make his own highlight tape and show it to scouts. The only team that gave him a chance was the Miami Dolphins, who signed him as an undrafted free agent.

In a way, the Dolphins were an ideal spot for Izzo. They had just hired Jimmy Johnson, and he was looking to bring in new faces to the team. He tried to make the most of his reps in joint practices with Washington and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he earned some praise from Johnson and the other coaches. However, he didn't know how much of an impression he made until a team meeting following their second preseason game against the Bears.

"Jimmy starts the meeting off...and he's talking about, 'Listen, guys, we just played our second preseason game. I know everyone here is starting to kinda trying to do the math,'" Izzo told "The Fishtalk" podcast. "He was saying, 'Don't try to figure this thing out. Nobody here has made the team.'"

But then Johnson hesitated and say, "Okay, maybe one guy. There's one guy that's made this team right now," and pointed to Marino. Then, he turned on the tape, and Izzo kept making plays. Eventually, Johnson said to stop the tape and told Izzo that he wanted him to call his parents and tell them that he made the team.

"Then he [Johnson] looks back at the room and says, 'Okay, now I got two,'" Izzo said. "I'm still looking for 51 more."

3. He's a four-time Super Bowl champion.

True to Johnson's word, Izzo made the Dolphins squad and made his NFL debut during the 1996 season. That kickstarted a 14-year career, most of which was spent in New England.

It was also during that time that the Patriots were building one of the best dynasties in NFL history.

One year after earning his first of three Pro Bowl selections, Izzo signed with the Patriots in 2001 -- the same year that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the team won their first Super Bowl, Izzo played all 16 games, recording 24 tackles and a fumble recovery as well as a tackle in the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams.

Two years later, Izzo was back in the Super Bowl after getting 22 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. Izzo recorded a solo tackle against the Carolina Panthers, as the team secured their second Super Bowl win in three seasons.

The 2004 season was arguably Izzo's best, as he had a career-high 25 stops, including 22 solo tackles, which earned him his third Pro Bowl. The Patriots went on to win their third Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Izzo earned his fourth Super Bowl ring once he began his coaching career with the New York Giants as an assistant special teams coach. Izzo played a role in improving the team's special teams unit (more on that in a bit), and helped the Giants get a win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, holding New England to just 17 points. Jerrel Jernigan had three kick returns for 71 yards, including a long of 34 yards, while Patriots returner Julian Edelman was held without a punt return.

4. He's known for turning around special teams units.

Izzo became one of the best special teams players in the NFL, recording 298 tackles over the course of his career. Once he transitioned into coaching, he became known for developing some of the best special teams units in football.

Izzo's special teams unit with the Giants played a critical role in getting the team to the Super Bowl. The Giants were locked in a tight battle with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship until Jacquian Williams forced a fumble on a punt return in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal from Lawrence Tynes.

Izzo was hired as the Houston Texans' special teams coordinator in 2015 and spent two seasons with the franchise. By the time Izzo and the team mutually parted ways in 2017, the Texans' special teams unit ranked in the top 10 in terms of opponent Kickoff Return Average and Net Punt Average.

Izzo spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, first as a special teams assistant before being promoted to special teams coordinator in 2021. In the last three seasons of his tenure, the Seahawks special teams unit had top 10 DVOA rankings, finishing eighth in 2023.

5. He's ecstatic to be coaching in Washington.

Coming to Washington is a homecoming for Izzo. Broad Run High School is just an eight-minute drive away from the team's facility. So, to have his career lead him back to the area is a rare opportunity for him.

And he can't wait to get started with the Commanders.

"I'm ecstatic to be back here," Izzo said. "I lived here a long time ago. 34 years ago. I went to high school right down the road at Broad Run. It helped really shape me as a young football player being around this franchise."

The Commanders had some bright spots on their special teams units, but there are some rougher areas that Izzo can help smooth out. For example, Washington allowed the ninth-most punt returns and were around the middle of the league in return yards allowed. They gave up the fewest kickoff returns with just five but also had the fourth-highest return average allowed. They also ranked in the bottom half of the league in punt return yards.

Despite there being plenty of work to be done, Izzo can feel how anxious the team is to get started.

"So just to be back with this franchise, it's a surreal experience and I'm excited to be a part of the staff that [Head Coach Dan Quinn] DQ's put together," Izzo said. "I mean, it's a great staff. We're just getting started on the offseason work that we got to get done. But you can just feel the energy. It's good energy here. I love the vibe and so I can't tell you how excited I am."

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