What’s Next for Michigan State?
For thirteen seasons, Mark Dantonio was the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans football team. In that time Dantonio went 133-74, which makes him the winningest coach in Michigan State history. With three Big Ten championships, two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, and a College Football Playoff appearance under his belt, Dantonio said that he felt it was time for Michigan State to enter the new decade with a new head coach at the helm. While Dantonio had an up-and-down final four seasons in East Lansing, Michigan, his departure leaves a head coaching vacancy at a blue blood program.
Dantonio’s absence opens the door for the Spartans to hire some of the hottest names in college football with the budget to pay any buyout or salary, so those are complete non-factors as far as hiring the next head coach goes.
Pat Narduzzi was the first name that came to mind for me as a potential replacement of Mark Dantonio . Narduzzi spent seven seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Michigan State Spartans before he took the head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Instantly the biggest name attached to the Michigan State coaching vacancy, Narduzzi would no doubt cost the university more than the other coaches.
Familiarity between the program and Narduzzi makes his name an easy connection to this vacancy. Following his first bowl win this past season, Narduzzi has shown he’s capable of improving as a coach and winning bowl games, along with his ability to develop and produce potential NFL talent in players like Dane Jackson and Maurice Ffrench.
Narduzzi is my early favorite to replace Mark Dantonio as the head coach of the Spartans due to familiarity, coaching style, and ability to develop talent. Narduzzi knows what it’s like to be a play-caller in the Big 10 and his potential willingness to leave Pitt to go to a bigger school makes him an interesting potential replacement.
A reported early frontrunner to replace Mark Dantonio, Fickell used to be the defensive coordinator at Ohio State before he took over at Cincinnati. Throughout his time at Cincinnati, Fickell has led the Bearcats to a 26-13 record, including 2-0 in bowl games.
Fickell does have some experience being a head coach in the Big Ten as he took over the Ohio State Buckeyes for one season in 2011 when Jim Tressel resigned following a scandal involving players selling memorabilia. Fickell is an AAC Coach of the Year winner that could very well be the next big non-Power 5 head coach to make the jump to a blue blood program.
One of the less-talked about names as a possible replacement is Dan Enos. Enos is a Michigan State alum who started at quarterback for the Spartans in 1989 and 1990. Following his graduation, Enos was a graduate assistant at Michigan State from 1991 to 1993. Enos came back to Michigan State from 2006 until 2009.
The biggest risk with Enos is that he was only head coach once in his career and that was with Central Michigan from 2010 until 2014. Enos is a different kind of candidate as his experience coaching is exclusively on the offensive side of the ball, as opposed to the defensive-minded approach that Dantonio brought and that Narduzzi and Fickell would maintain.
Enos most recently served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami (FL), which only lasted one season. I have a difficult time faulting Enos for the lack of success in Miami given that the talent there was not only young, but below average too.
The riskiest hire that has been floating around possibly filling the head coaching vacancy in East Lansing is Chris Creighton. Creighton rose through the ranks by being the head coach at Ottawa in Kansas and working his way up to Eastern Michigan.
Creighton isn’t a coach that I’m particularly fond of as a head coaching candidate because I don’t think that he’s shown enough ability to handle any power five school, let alone one of the most prestigious names available. Creighton might be the head coach at a big program one day, but I think that fans are getting ahead of themselves with throwing his name in the hat.
A name that I’m choosing to throw into the discussion for this vacancy is former NFL safety and current Wisconsin Badgers Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard. As a player, Leonhard was always known as a smart, hard-worker who lacked the skill to be a top talent but had the intangibles to be a consistent contributor.
As a coach, Leonhard hit his stride at his alma mater of Wisconsin. In 2017, Leonhard became the defensive coordinator of the Badgers and was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football. Leonhard brings NFL style concepts to the college game which gives opposing offenses fits as well as helps prepare his defensive players with an NFL IQ.
Leonhard will quickly become one of the hottest coaching names in college football, his familiarity with the other opposing offenses in the Big Ten should just give him another leg up over the competition in the conference.
A team that was already losing a significant amount of talent to the NFL might suffer some more. Starters Brian Lewerke, Raequan Williams, Joe Bachie, Kenny Willekes, and David Dowell were five of the top talents on the 2019 Michigan State Spartans and all five of them have graduated and entered the NFL Draft.
Hiring a new head coach likely means that we could see a whole new coaching staff come in. That would mean that there’s a possibility players could be asked to learn a whole new system on both sides of the ball. A positive is that when you become the new head coach at a program as prestigious as Michigan State, there should be no difficulty finding coaches who would jump at the opportunity to coach in East Lansing.
The worry here is that whenever a team undergoes a change as drastic as this, a program runs the risk of players not wanting to start over with a new coaching staff so they could transfer out. If players do decide to transfer from Michigan State, what is looking like what’s going to be an already rough season could hit some more bumps in the road.
The priority for Michigan State should be to ensure the status of players like Jacub Panasiuk, Naquan Jones, Julian Barnett, Elijah Collins, Shakur Brown, Antjuan Simmons, Michael Dowell, and Noah Harvey. Those players are shaping up to be the core of the 2020 Michigan State Spartans and some of them are eligible to transfer without needing to sit out a year so their risk is higher.
Although the Michigan State Spartans haven’t won the Big Ten Championship since 2015, this is still a team that routinely finishes at or near the top of the Big Ten. Whether or not how you liked Mark Dantonio has a coach, his resignation opens up the possibility that the program could find themselves at the top of the Big Ten sooner rather than later.
Over the next couple of years, we could see Michigan State routinely find themselves in the top three of the Big Ten East, which is usually the team that wins the conference and finds their way into the College Football Playoff. To me, Dantonio just didn’t feel like he had it in him anymore to keep up with this new age of college football.
Hopefully by adding a younger head coach and reloading on talent through both high school and the transfer portal, the Spartans can rebuild and get right back near the top of the conference. The Big Ten could be in for a big shake-up if Michigan State hits this hire.