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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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smith a "good man?" Agree. Very personable, the kids like him (they liked Williams, too, and that worked out well, didn't it?). So, make JLS the opening act at the Improv with his nearly $4.0 million payout.

Smith a "good coach?" Not in the big show! Maybe in the old CUSA. Maybe in the MWC. But he never had the commitment to make it in the Big Ten. He'd rather climb a mountain, hang glide, or run with the bulls (something strangley fitting about him and bulls..t).

Compassion for him is admirable. Rewriting his history at MSU is disingenuous. Factually he ranks as one of MSU's worst head coaches. Move on. MSU deserves, and we Alumni have paid to have better.

For REAL change we MSU Alumni should be looking through a microscope at the Board of Trustees and the AD so that Lou Anna Simon (and MSU Alumni) don't have to repeat the BW and JLS experiment 4 years from now. Lou Anna can start by banning Joel Ferguson from having any input, influence, or vote on the new Spartan Football HC (or his stff for that matter.) Then when she does land the coaching prize take away Ferguson's access to the Duffy Daugherty Building, the new coach, and maybe even the Administration's suite at Spartan Stadium.

It is the only way MSU might have a chance at keeping politics out of the sports programs at the University. Keep Ferguson involved and the only thing that will change is the name of the coach. I'd hate to see Lou Anna at the business end of the Alumni gun four years from now...along with another coach.

Go Spartans!!

2:25 PM 

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