Vince Marrow visited Cardinal Mooney High School at the end of his freshman year seeking a change in scenery but unsure he would be able to adapt to it.
A prodigious athlete in inner city Youngstown, Marrow had concerns he wouldn't mesh at the Catholic school located in the central part of the rust belt city. He was standing just one mile from his comfort zone, South High, but in terms of culture and lifestyle, he felt a world away. Waiting for Marrow inside the school that day was a star athlete who would make him feel welcome and convince him to transfer. His name was Bo Pelini.
Over the next three years, in the hallways, in the basketball gymnasium, and on the football field, Marrow and Pelini forged a friendship that has since extended to the University of Nebraska where the two are reunited as coaches of the 17th-ranked Cornhuskers football team.
Marrow, a former standout tight end at Toledo who in recent years coached at UT and at Springfield High School, joined Pelini's staff this season as a graduate assistant, serving as the de facto tight ends coach. Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) travels to play No. 20 Michigan (8-2, 4-2) Saturday as both teams hope to keep their title hopes alive in the Legends division. Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) has a one-game lead on both of them.
"He played a big part in swaying me to go there," Marrow said this week. "From day one, man, we just hit it off. We became real close. We stayed at each other's homes, went to camp together, did a lot of stuff in the summer together. He was a guy I grew very interested in. I was like, wow, this guy's in a different place. We had the same goals, the same type of leadership, and the same drive. That attracted me to him."
Pelini, who is 38-14 overall at Nebraska and two wins shy of his third straight 10-win season, nearly lured Marrow to Lincoln four years ago when he assembled his first staff. But, according to Marrrow, "the timing wasn't right," and he instead landed at Toledo working for coach Tom Amstutz. From there, he accepted the head job at Springfield in 2009 where he coached current Nebraska freshman defensive lineman Kevin Williams. A year ago, Marrow was tight ends coach for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, a job he left in the offseason when Pelini enticed him to Nebraska. With the addition of Marrow, there were four Cardinal Mooney graduates on staff -- Marrow, Pelini, Pelini's brother Carl, the defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
"Vince has done a good job for us," Pelini said. "He came in as a graduate assistant coach, and he's done a really good job. He has good experience. He's done a lot of good things for us, and he's a good football coach."
Marrow, 43, might be the oldest graduate assistant in the country. Those gigs are generally filled by 24 and 25-year-olds fresh off their own playing careers who fulfill thankless jobs like brewing coffee and grabbing lunch for the staff. Marrow, though, has a more defined role, overseeing the tight ends and offensive tackles. As an added bonus, he gets to be with his son, running back Michael Marrow, who is sitting out this season upon his transfer from Eastern Michigan. A 2009 Central Catholic graduate, Michael began his career at Alabama and left there last fall to be closer to home following the death of three grandparents in a one-year span. He never played for EMU, and joined his father in Lincoln this spring.
Vince said he turned down a job with an NFL team to be at Nebraska and "help a friend."
"It's kind of like being back in high school, but the chips are more serious -- bigger stakes," Marrow said. "He's still the same guy. He's a good guy to be around."
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