With the Michigan State football season coming to a close, I ask myself if this season went by in five minutes or five years.
I remember the preseason was filled with so much optimism and promise, pouring over rosters and schedules and bending over backward to find a pathway to 10 wins. We counted down the hours until kickoff against Central Michigan, only to be stunned in the first quarter. Every worry we had came true when our offense couldn’t move the ball and the Chips’ offense worked its way down the field, just to have the defense tighten up.
Yes, the Spartans covered the spread but the seed of disappointment was already planted in the back of our minds. We chalked it up to first-game nerves, new players, and the bright lights of a Friday night opener.
Little did we know that we should have savored every moment. The Spartans would end up going 1-6 over the next seven games.
Oh, and lost their head coach two games into the season. Mel Tucker went out as he came into the program: chaotic. A last-minute midnight hire in February of 2020, he had such little time to recruit and install due to COVID-19. Every season was an up-and-down roller coaster and his exit was no different.
It was a nightmare both on and off the field as every new detail about Tucker’s indiscretions were revealed and left a black eye on the program while failing to do anything competent against Washington and basically any Big Ten team with a pulse. Harlon Barnett graciously stepped in and frankly did the best he could do given the circumstances and every single Spartan should thank him for his contributions to the program, especially over the last 10 weeks. But the data and optics of his tenure as interim head coach are too egregious to give him serious consideration to even keep him on staff.
The blowout losses to good teams, the defeats that were snatched from the jaws of victory, and the decisions to keep certain personnel on staff were just too glaring. There were just too many times that fans (making way less money than the coaches) could have made smarter decisions. A lot of players didn’t show improvement year after year and the tired joke of “Mel Tucker owes Kenneth Walker III half his salary” becomes more and more true every day. A 42-0 bludgeoning by Penn State where MSU only mustered 53 total yards was the perfect microcosm of the season and left no doubt that every single staff member should find employment elsewhere next year.
But it brings us to the next horizon of Michigan State football.
Former Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith has been named the 26th head coach of Michigan State football. With him, there is a new sense of hope. He has a history of resurrecting a program that was down and out, played second fiddle in their own state, and got more out of his players than their recruiting rankings would say. He’s an outstanding offensive mind for a program that hasn’t seen competent play-calling since 2015. It’s rooting in a strong running game which is perfect for a Big Ten program.
Sure, there are plenty of questions surrounding him. He’s brand new to the area with Montana being the farthest East he has ever coached which is why the coordinator hires are crucial. We can let Jonathan Smith focus on what kind of players he wants and have the support of his staff to help him secure those players in Michigan, Ohio, and now a (hopefully) new recruiting pipeline out West.
With no bowl game to worry about for the Spartans, Smith can get to work immediately. While there should be plenty of roster turnover, his focus should be keeping the core players. Players I would love to see come back are Nate Carter, both quarterbacks (even have Aiden Chiles come from Oregon State), Jordan Hall, and pretty much the entire 2023 recruiting class.
There is talent here, and it just wasn’t getting the proper coaching from the former staff. The foundation is set and for the first time in a long time, the Spartans can go forth into an offseason with some stability, a vision, and hope.