Former star Sedrick Irvin makes pitch to return to Michigan State: 'All I need is a shirt'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

New Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker just hired one former Spartans great to be an assistant on his slowly-coming-together staff.

Another former Michigan State football standout hopes there's room on the staff for at least one more alum.

Former Michigan State tailback Sedrick Irvin was a fourth-round NFL draft pick by the Lions in 1999.

"I've been in the game, I'm ready, let the monkey out of the cage, you know," Sedrick Irvin, one of the program's best running backs, told The News in a Wednesday night phone conversation from Florida. "You walk into that running-back room and my picture is on the wall. I'm thinking, I'm a player and I go to, say, Alabama and every time you walk into the stadium you get to see Nick Saban's statue out there ... When you've got a statue out there or your picture on the wall, that means you did something special at that university.

"I would love to have my own running-back room now, where I can look to the wall and say, 'Damn, there's something I did. I haven't donated no money, but I'd be able to coach guys that come through there now."

Tucker, who took over as head coach early last week, has announced five official hires, two on the defensive staff and three on the offensive staff, including Thursday's news of Jay Johnson officially joining Tucker's staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. One is former MSU receiver Courtney Hawkins taking over as receivers coach.

Irvin, 41, has a lengthy coaching resume, if not a great one. He's now a running-backs coach at Gulliver Prep in Florida, where he coaches his son, Sedrick Jr., who will be a sophomore next season.

The headlines on his resume are two seasons at Alabama (2008-09) under his old coach at Michigan State, Saban; a stint as running-backs coach at Memphis (2010-11), and a stint in the same role at East Carolina (2016), sandwiched around some roles at smaller schools or high schools. He's coached high school football in Florida for the last few years.

At Alabama, Irvin's role was defined as "intern," though Saban said he essentially made him the assistant running-backs coach. He was a mentor to Mark Ingram, the Flint-area star who won the 2009 Heisman. Ingram, in his acceptance speech, credited Irvin, and not just for his work on the field.

"I remember his dad was going through something with the police or whatever, and we kept up the communication," Irvin said. "One thing Big Mark (Ingram) told me was, 'Take care of my son, Sed. Stay on his (butt). Stay on him.' I told him, 'I gotcha.' Even though I was an intern, I had the freedom to coach when I can."

During games, Irvin was allowed to be on the field, as Saban's running-backs coach worked in the box.

Irvin said he learned a ton from observing Saban, who also was his coach all three years in East Lansing, before Irvin left for the NFL. He was a fourth-round pick by the Lions in 1999.

"One thing I learned from Saban is the work ethic of a head coach. You set the tempo, and everything trickles down," Irvin said. "I remember, we beat LSU when we were picked to lose. As we get on the plane, everybody, from the president to the AD to all the other the other coaches (were celebrating) ... and I'm sitting right behind (Nick) and his wife, and he's already watching (Mississippi State) film because we play them next week. We come in that Sunday, and he already has everything broken down — defense, offense, special teams, whatever it is.

"One thing I learned also, he holds everybody accountable, from the maintenance people to everybody.

"That's two things I really took from him."

Irvin was back in East Lansing last weekend, for Saturday's men's basketball game against Maryland at Breslin Center.

Coach Tom Izzo invited Irvin, in the hopes of setting up a meeting between him and Tucker. They ended up speaking briefly, as they were both walking to attend a postgame VIP reception for the 2000 national-championship team. That team was led by Mateen Cleaves, a good friend of Irvin who back in 2000 tossed Irvin the ball after the victory over Iowa State to advance to the Final Four. Irvin said he still has that ball.

Tucker gave Irvin his cell number, and he's trying to be patient. But it's tough. He wants back in. He actually interviewed for an MSU coaching job before, under Mark Dantonio.

"He spoke highly of me. That was right after the Mark Ingram speech," Irvin said. "Dantonio told me, 'You'd be a hell of a guy, great recruiter, great with kids, boom, boom, boom, but in this business, you owe a lot of favors. He ended up giving the job to Brad Salem."

Irvin and Tucker have crossed paths before. Irvin played at Michigan State when Tucker was getting his coaching start under Saban, as a graduate assistant. (Saban remains a strong reference.) They've also crossed paths down south, with Tucker on the recruiting trail. At Georgia, his stop before his one year as a head coach at Colorado, Tucker recruited and landed four-star cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, who played under Irvin at Miami Southridge High.

Irvin, who left MSU with the fourth-most rushing yards in program history before a brief NFL career, doesn't know if any of those connections, his strong ties to MSU or his ability to recruit the South — key for MSU back when Saban was turning things around in East Lansing — will be enough to get a legitimate look.

All Irvin can do is wait, and hope.

"Indiana just got four kids from Dade County, and Nebraska got another two," Irvin said. "We're talking about players that have the potential to play on Sunday, and they could've been in East Lansing.

"All I need is a shirt. Get me a shirt with Michigan State on it."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984