Good coach, bad situation
As rare as in-season firings are in college football, Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon made the bold and correct decision - and make no mistake, it was hers and hers alone - to fire John L. Smith Wednesday.
Smith is a good coach who, for a myriad of reasons, never got it done at MSU. He took the Spartans to a bowl game in his first season and won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, but always seemed one game, one play, one player away from turning things around after that.
His quirky ways and Cowboy persona did little to curry favor among the big-money boosters that matter. And his team's struggles on the field against Louisiana Tech, Rutgers and most recently Indiana, not to mention Michigan and Ohio State (a combined 0-8), hastened his departure from a job that is as difficult as any in the country.
He'll never say it, but Smith has to regret leaving Louisville four years ago, right before the Cardinals joined the Big East and fell into BCS Championship game contention. He took over a program coming off a 1-10 season and won 41 games and made five bowl appearances in five years. The foundation he laid is the reason why Louisville is undefeated heading into tonight's game against West Virginia.
But Smith fit MSU like Cinderella's sister fit that slipper. And the more he jammed, the uglier things became. He was railed for innocently slapping himself (a jab at Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis) after losing to Illinois earlier this year, and his running feud with the local Lansing media embarrassed some power-wielding bigwigs in the MSU front office.
But the reality is, Smith was fired because his team lost too much losing to Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State is excusable, losing to Indiana and Illinois is not and by acting now the Spartans hope to have their pick of what could be a tight coaching market. Former University of Miami and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis is the No. 1 target, but Davis will have his choice of college jobs if he's patient. Already North Carolina is interested, and positions at Arizona State, Alabama and the wild card Miami could open up.
Smith did the stand-up thing and met with the media briefly Wednesday. I called him this morning but have not yet heard back. The reality of the situation is Smith is a good man and a good coach who got caught in a bad situation. Whoever follows in his footsteps will have his work cut out as well.