MSU-Mariucci: What's Needed To Make Marriage?

In Michigan State's eyes, Mariucci could have the kind of rock star presence in East Lansing that Pete Carroll possesses in Southern California. Who thought before his arrival at USC that Carroll could have that kind of success? Carroll never had the kind of NFL success Mariucci did.

DETROIT - Having covered Steve Mariucci for the three seasons he ran the Detroit Lions program, one thing that was always a source of concern to him was not having a quarterback who could run his offense.

The Lions constantly floundered offensively, not because Mariucci forgot how to run an offense, but because he didn't have a player who could execute his scheme.

Mariucci was stuck with an inconsistent and highly disliked Joey Harrington who never could get his quarterback rating up to even mediocre standards and an aging, fading Jeff Garcia, a player who the coach loved, but who simply didn't have the ability anymore.

So it was very interesting to note the presence of basketball coach Tom Izzo and associate athletic director Mark Hollis (Ron Mason's heir apparent) in Lowell for the Muskegon/Lowell high school game.

Izzo's subtle message to star quarterback Keith Nichol was all that was needed to keep the QB in the fold for a possible pairing with Mariucci as his head coach next season. The Spartans also has a solid prospect in Connor Dixon already in the fold.

With that piece of the puzzle is in place, the next thing that will happen is a sit down for all the parties concerned to discuss what is needed to make, what could be a dream marriage, come true.

For Michigan State, they will want to be sure that Mariucci is willing to get - with zest - into the recruiting wars against Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. All three schools within a few hundred miles of East Lansing have star coaches in Lloyd Carr (Michigan), Jim Tressel (Ohio State) and Charlie Weis (Notre Dame), but Mariucci would outshine them all.

In Michigan State's eyes, Mariucci could have the kind of rock star presence in East Lansing that Pete Carroll possesses in Southern California. Who thought before his arrival at USC that Carroll could have that kind of success?

Mariucci's combination of charismatic charm, good looks and a kind, polite eloquence would knock the socks of parents of prospects all over the Midwest, not to mention his connections in the talent-rich West Coast.

It is also not out of the realm of possibility that Mooch could enlist a star-studded group of players like Brett Favre and Steve Young to call prospects and tell them how 'Mooch' helped make them the players they are; Hall of Fame quarterbacks. What a powerful pitch that would be!

If you were a youngster and you got a call from Jerry Rice, telling you that Mariucci is a guy who can help you get to the next level, what would you say?

Still, MSU will want assurances that Mooch would stay for a while. The last thing they need is to be going through a coaching search this time next season.

For Mariucci, he's going to want the full resources and the backing of the University community. He's not going to want to have to check Northwest Airlines schedules every day during recruiting season and he isn't going to want to hear some faculty member complaining about the football team's budget.

He's also going to want some financial security.

Mariucci has just this year and next remaining on the five-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Lions in 2003, then Mr. Ford's money runs out.

One of the interesting personal story lines will be if he can convince his wife, Gayle, a Bay Area native, to think about staying in East Lansing. Mooch has split time between the Bay Area and the Detroit area ever since he signed with Detroit. For him it wouldn't be that much of a big deal, but, as any good husband knows, keeping the wife happy is a big consideration.

MSU appears willing to pony up the big bucks to sign Mariucci, who won't come cheap. Think in the neighborhood of $2 million per season. Nick Saban's contract at LSU called for him to make $2.3 million and he would have bumped up to $3.4 if he had stayed until 2010.

Incidentally, Tom Izzo's seven-year, $7.7 million rolling contract ought to get bumped up to the $2 million range as well if he gets Mooch to sign on the dotted line. Izzo's initally resistance to the idea has faded and he is publicly on board now about the possibilty.

The final consideration MUST be a concrete exit plan that everyone - including Izzo - can live with.

If things don't work out as everyone expects, there needs to be an easy out for everyone that will satisfy all parties, but expecially Izzo. Mariucci's going to want a healthy dose of patience after the Lions debacle, MSU will likley want a bowl game within three seasons.

Whatever the case, MSU cannot afford to alienate their #1 asset, Izzo, and make him unhappy. He must be on board for any and all discussions involving his best friend, Mariucci.

While their are other candidates such as Pat Shurmur, Todd Grantham, Brian Kelly, Tyrone Willingham and others who could do a solid job in building a winner, none bring the kind of instant name recognition and cache that Steve Mariucci brings to the table.

Clearly that is the man MSU has eyes for. It's a marriage that can happen and if it does, it'll be win-win for everyone concerned.


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