[dad]When I first found out about John L. Smith’s firing on Nov. 1, my eyes lit up and I did a Tiger-esque fist pump. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone. After much displeasure from fans and alumni, and with the faith of the student section crumbling, athletic director Ron Mason and President Lou Anna K. Simon had to let Smith go. However, the timing of the firing, and the decision to let Smith finish out the season, was quite unusual.
Instantly, I thought back to the last Spartan coach, Bobby Williams, who was fired in 2002, also during the middle of the season. When I looked at the stats and stories of the 2002 and 2006 seasons, I found eerily similar results. The win/loss records of the two coaches were both under .500, as were their records when the firing announcements were made (Williams was 3-6, Smith, 4-5) and they were both fired in the first few days of November. Records aside, there was one more disturbing connector between the Williams and Smith eras: problems off the field.
Most loyal Spartan football fans know of the substance abuse problems then-quarterback Jeff Smoker endured during the 2002 season, but running back and fellow captain Dawan Moss was also dismissed from the team following an arrest, and then-freshman Matt Trannon was declared academically ineligible. Flash forward to Oct. 6, 2006, when four Spartans, including starting tight end Kellen Davis, were allegedly involved in a fight and suspended indefinitely, and safety Mike Bell was charged with assault and battery following a fight outside of Demonstration Hall on Sept. 8.
With all of these similarities and problems between the tenures of Williams and Smith, it is easy to see why they were both let go. However, the biggest question is why Smith was able to finish out the season. If Mason and Simon felt Smith was their best chance to win, that speaks volumes of not only Smith’s assistants’ inept coaching abilities but also of the sorry state of this football program. Administrators could not possibly have believed this upheaval would give the players a boost and have them screaming, “Win one for John L.!” Half the players probably tuned him out and just played for their own personal stats. Leaving a sitting duck at the helm of a football team is ludicrous, and the embarrassing streak of losses the Spartans have racked up is more reason for potential recruits to look the other way.
To put the team’s issues in perspective, a few arrests and suspensions aren’t as bad as the national coverage of the Oct. 14 brawl between University of Miami and Florida International that led to the suspensions of 31 players. However, the problems caused by the irresponsibility of certain MSU players are still bad for the university’s image: not just for football recruits, but also for potential students. College football is one of the most popular sports in America, and whether you are the coach at Ohio State University or the University of Louisiana at Monroe, recruits must be good, tough players who also are quality people. In reality, the more football games the team wins, the more noticeable the university becomes. This recognition spreads through the state and also through the nation.
During his tenure, Smith was always ready for an adventure, dedicated to living life on the edge. He went paragliding in Switzerland and ran with the bulls in Spain, but a successful coaching career at MSU was never added to this impressive resume. Students and alumni do not care about the adventurous gleam in Smith’s eyes; they’d rather he pull through and bring a competitive team to the field. The team does not necessarily have to be a dominator in the college football realm, but should be a group of athletes with the skill and heart to play with the best in the nation. Sadly, he failed to do this, and his personality was not fit for a Big Ten college football program where toughness (supposedly) wins.
[football]Many names were suggested for the head coaching position, from U-M defensive coordinator Ron English to an asinine rumor about Tom Izzo moving from the hardwood to the gridiron. On Nov. 27, Simon announced that Mark Dantonio, former head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, would be taking over next season. In his debut at Cincinnati, Dantonio led the Bearcats to their first winning season in 23 years: an admirable accomplishment, and one Spartan fans hope he can replicate. Key players, including junior running back Jehuu Caulcrick, were apparently involved in the selection process. Dantonio touts himself as a recruiting maniac, and he pledged to turn the football team around. He did it at Cincinnati: let’s hope he can do it in East Lansing.
This program is in dire need of a kick in the butt, and the administration is perhaps facing its last chance to put MSU football where the fans feel it should be: among the nation’s elite. Nick Saban (now of Miami Dolphins fame) was the last successful coach here at MSU, and we are now looking at Dantonio, wondering if he can bring MSU to football glory. This might not be baseball, but the new coach and team combination needs to be careful, because MSU might fall off the football map for good with one more strike out.

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