Preface: This is the halfway point of the season and I originally intended to put forth a narrative defining and describing a “Blue Ribbon Search Committee” including a “short list of viable coaching candidates” but given the most recent devastating loss at Rutgers, I thought it was more important to underscore the dire scenario in which Michigan State finds itself.
Michigan State Football is at a “tipping point” of immense proportions, and it must rethink how it conducts business. The entire football program inclusive of its administration led by yet another interim President, a divisive Board of Trustees, an inexperienced AD, and an interim football coach can collapse into nothingness unless positive corrective action is taken.
So, in this missive, I am putting forth a grim narrative describing the incredible number of missteps over the past 50 years that have taken Spartan Football from the extraordinary heights of success in the 1950’s and 1960’s to unspeakable lows today.
And if Michigan State doesn’t correct course, its Football program could be irretrievably and irrevocably broken, so if Michigan State is going to reset its compass, then it must look into the mirror, take account of its deplorable missteps, and take corrective steps.
Due to the problematic scenario that Michigan State finds itself as described herein, this is a lengthy missive yet I hope you take time to study the facts and then share your thoughts with Michigan State administration. The viability of Spartan Football hangs in the balance.
I hope you find this missive to be informative and thank you for reading.
Hiring a football coach at a major university is only exceeded in importance by hiring a dynamic university president.
After all, football is the most visible symbol at a major university; it is the front porch; it is a bastion of pride; it is the rallying point of purpose and the single most potent generator of charitable donations.
Win football games on Saturday and donations increase on Sunday; lose on Saturday and donations decline. Lose a lot, and donations dry up!
Yet win a championship and a tsunami of charitable donations flood in.
It’s no secret, a Championship caliber football program not only fills the stadium but stimulates all manner of charitable donations.
A Championship team is not only good PR, but it also entices visitors to campus which results in robust sale of game day concessions including licensed gear and apparel.
So, due to the magnitude of the job, hiring a football coach is not the place for random selection and “hope for the best”, yet that’s what happened when Michigan State hired Mel Tucker with a plan no more reasoned than “Spin the Wheel of Fortune”.
Mel Tucker had never distinguished himself as a Head Coach, so he was essentially chosen in random fashion from an undescribed set of criteria and Michigan State is paying the price for such a lethargic, and lazy search.
Michigan State lost again last Saturday 27-24 to Rutgers in one of the most horrendous meltdowns in college football history. The loss will go down in infamy.
The Spartans yielded 21 unanswered points in the 4th Qtr, including 14 points in less than 4 min.
So, as we take stock, Mel Tucker’s program has compiled a 0-4 record this season vs Power 5 schools, while its cumulative Big Ten record since 2020 is 12-16.
Tucker is gone, but his dreaded legacy lives on!
You should be outraged because Mel Tucker was chosen in random fashion in the absence of a well-reasoned, coherent plan and Michigan State fans are paying a heavy price.
And I want to preach right here!
There was nothing in Mel Tucker’s resume to suggest he was a Championship caliber coach, and I warned Michigan State partisans when he was hired regarding the high probability of a negative outcome.
Sadly, most partisans took zero time to learn about Mel Tucker’s lack of experience or qualifications and gleefully accepted him as their next head coach.
Most partisans simply and happily put their faith in Michigan State administrators to make a coaching decision for them and thereby “hope for the best”.
But hope is not a plan, and just like politics, if you are not engaged in the process and fail to get informed, then you deserve what you get.
Consequently, Michigan State partisans are getting a rude awakening for their lack of engagement and for allowing Michigan State AD, its President and BOT to sidestep their collective responsibility to conduct a coherent search for a Championship caliber coach and thereby settled for Mel Tucker, an imposter.
Let’s look back at how a proud legacy has become a national disgrace:
When John Hannah took the reins as President of Michigan State College in 1941, Michigan State had an enrollment of just 7,100 students and Macklin Field (later to be named Spartan Stadium) seated just 27,000.
At that time, Michigan Stadium seated approximately 86,000, Ohio Stadium had a capacity of approximately 73,000, and Notre Dame seated approximately 54,000.
Yet, Hannah had an audacious plan to transform Michigan State College from a small regional undergraduate school into one of the largest research universities in the world and he understood that he could accomplish his goal with the help of football to sell his public relations message and inspire charitable donations.
So, when skeptics said Hannah’s dream was unachievable, in turn Hannah conceived the audacious plan of building a formidable Football program in the backyard of mighty Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State, the football powers of the day.
Step one in Hannah’s audacious plan was hiring “Biggie” Munn as his head football coach in 1947.
Munn was a two-way, two-time All-American who distinguished himself as a Fullback & Guard at Minnesota. Munn also distinguished himself in Track & Field.
After graduating from Minnesota, Munn became an assistant coach at Michigan for 7 years on some of Michigan’s mightiest teams, then became head coach at Syracuse before John Hannah came calling.
Munn was built for success and Hannah knew it.
Upon arriving in East Lansing, Munn wasted no time and methodically posted 3 consecutive winning seasons and by 1950 Michigan State posted an 8-1 record including victories vs Michigan and Notre Dame, a huge feat for tiny Michigan State College which was an Independent School at the time.
By 1950 Michigan State’s rise was so prominent it was invited to join the Big Ten and compete in all sports except Football.
Then by 1951, just 4 years after Biggie took the reins, Michigan State beat Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in a single season, compiled a record of 9-0, and won its first of “back-to-back” National Titles.
In 1953, Michigan State officially competed in Big Ten football, won its first Big Ten Championship, earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, and beat UCLA.
Biggie coached through 1954, won “back-to-back” National Championships in 1951 & 1952, won a Rose Bowl in 1954, and from 1950 to 1954, he posted an auspicious record of 35-2 (95%).
Biggie’s job establishing Michigan State Football as a formidable football power was essentially complete.
Then Hannah asked Munn to assume the role of AD to build Championship teams across the Michigan State athletic landscape, and he did.
Hannah was a brilliant organizer with a brilliant plan, and he hired a mighty collaborator in Biggie Munn to carry out his mission.
Even though Biggie stepped away as Head Football Coach in 1954, his “fingerprints” and influence continued in terms of recruiting elite athletes and hiring Championship caliber assistant coaches.
Indeed, during those halcyon years Michigan State won an unprecedented 6 national titles from 1951-1966, including the fact it dominated Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State during the 20-year span from 1947 to 1966.
Hannah hired Biggie Munn to orchestrate a plan to build a formidable football power, and together they “handpicked” an impressive staff of assistant coaches.
A short list of Biggie’s first staff included Duffy Daugherty, Bob Devaney, and Dan Devine, each of whom eventually won national championships in their own regard.
Of course, Duffy Daugherty won 4 National Titles at Michigan State; Bob Devaney won 8, Big 8 Titles and 2 National Titles at Nebraska; and Dan Devine won 2, Big 8 Titles at Missouri and 1 National Championship at Notre Dame.
And there was Bill Yeoman who after he departed MSU, put University of Houston onto the football map and into the National Championship conversation with 11 Top 25 finishes including two Top 5 finishes during his 25-year career.
By every measure, Hannah understood the dynamics of football and utilized it as a calling card to inspire partisans, entice mega donors and leverage legislators thereby helping him achieve his goals of institutional growth.
By the time Hannah stepped down in 1969, Michigan State student enrollment had grown from the tiny campus of 7,000 in 1941 and eclipsed more than 40,000 students in 1969 while its campus was considered one of the largest and most scenic in the world.
Meanwhile, Macklin Field with a capacity of 27,000 in 1947, expanded into Spartan Stadium with a capacity of more than 76,000 by 1969, including the fact it hosted a record crowd of 80,000 for the “Game of the Century” on Nov 19,1966 when it hosted Notre Dame.
Sadly, the organizational brain trust of Hannah, Munn and Daugherty that transformed Michigan State College from a small regional undergraduate school into one of the largest research universities in the world with football as its most visible symbol, retired in a short 3-year span: Hannah stepped down in1969; Munn stepped down in 1971; and Duffy stepped down in 1972 and Michigan State was never the same.
The growth thereafter has only been incremental and dynamic leadership has been conspicuously missing.
Michigan State Football has paid a heavy price for its lack of leadership:
Of course, many will recall that Denny Stolz replaced Duffy Daugherty after Daugherty stepped down in 1972.
It was a short tenure which was a harbinger of stormy things to come. Stolz commenced his tenure in 1973 yet was forced to step down in 1975.
And from the time Denny Stolz stepped down in 1975 until Mark Dantonio was hired in December 2006 (a span of 31 years), Michigan State Football posted a dismal overall record of 174-177-7 (49%) including a cumulative Big Ten record of 122-125-3 (48%).
If you are a Spartan partisan, then you need to let that dismal W/L record sink in.
Winning just 48% of Big Ten conference games is not the mark of an elite program. In fact, it is a dismal statement for a proud football program which won 6 National Titles in 15 years from 1951 to 1966.
Of course, 3 coaches posted winning Big Ten records including Darryl Rogers, 19-12-1 (59%); George Perles, 53-42-2 (55%); and Nick Saban, 23-16 (59%).
And while Rogers, Perles and Saban posted winning records, their achievements were narrowly on the north side of 50% which was solid but certainly not elite.
Nevertheless, Rogers, Perles and Saban produced a few good years, but the good years were offset by multiple seasons of mediocrity and turmoil.
- Roger’s tenure spanned just 4 years from 1976 to 1979; he tied for Big Ten title in 1978 but never earned an AP Top 10 ranking. After a losing season in 1979 he departed for Arizona State.
- Perles high water mark was a Big Ten title in 1987 including a #8 AP ranking but never finished in the Top 5. We should also note that 3 of Perles final 4 seasons were inglorious losing campaigns and he fought as many battles with the AD and President as he did vs Big Ten opponents. When Perles stepped down, Spartan Football was unsteady.
- Meanwhile Saban took the baton from Perles and posted 4 mostly “unremarkable” seasons from 1995 to 1998, but then he posted a remarkable 10-win season in 1999 including a #7 AP ranking yet never won a Big Ten Championship. Saban’s squabbles with President McPherson were legendary and Saban famously departed for LSU to win a National Title and then went on to win 6 more National Titles at Alabama.
On the other hand, 4 Spartan coaches posted decidedly deplorable Big Ten records, including:
- Frank “Muddy” Waters, 8-18 (30%)
- Bobby Williams, 7-17 (29%)
- John L. Smith, 12-20 (38%)
- Mel Tucker, 12-16 (44%)
Of course, Mel Tucker added transgressions of depravity and moral turpitude to his resume and his phone conversation with Brenda Tracy will live in infamy in the annals of Spartan Football history.
And while Tucker is officially gone, nevertheless his 12-16 (44%) Big Ten record (and the depravity of his behavior) lives on and so Tucker will get credit for each, and every loss posted this season because Spartan fans are left with a coaching staff of some of the ineptest coaches ever assembled, all hired by Mel Tucker, including but not limited to: Harlon Barnett (Interim Head Coach); Jay Johnson (O-Coordinator); Chris Kapilovic (Run Game Coordinator); Scottie Hazelton (D-Coordinator); and Ross Els (Special Teams Coach).
That coaching staff is responsible for one of the most ill-prepared and undisciplined teams in recent memory.
Then I will give you last Saturday’s debacle at Rutgers as the most recent Exhibit of ineptitude.
Moreover, given its propensity for lack of discipline, unpreparedness and finding creative ways to lose, it is highly unlikely Michigan State Football will win another game this season.
But I digress: Waters, Williams, Smith, and Tucker collectively won just 35% of their Big Ten games and you must ask the question, “did anyone vet those coaches?”
In stark contrast to the football dynasty built by Hannah & Munn from meager resources commencing in the 1940’s, there have been 7 coaches who inherited remarkable resources, yet essentially squandered their opportunity.
But let’s give credit where credit is due because Mark Dantonio embraced his opportunity.
We can note, in the 47 years from 1966 (the last National Championship team) through 2012 Michigan State never achieved a single Top 5 ranking.
Yet, to his credit, and with ample support of President Simon, and AD, Mark Hollis, Mark Dantonio overcame immense odds and posted 3 consecutive Top 5 rankings in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Further to that point, we can give Mark Dantonio credit for cleaning up the notable mess left behind by Williams and Smith, and thereafter successfully rebuilt the program by way of posting an impressive Big Ten record of 69-59 (64%) including 4 Division Titles, 3 Big Ten titles and 3 Top 5 AP finishes.
Especially notable is the fact that from 2010 to 2015 Dantonio posted an auspicious Big Ten record of 39-9 (81%).
Sadly, Mel Tucker tore it all apart.
Remember, Tucker came to Michigan State armed with a book of cliches, coach speak and meaningless mantras and boldly stated he would “change the culture”?
Problematically, Mel Tucker never won anything, anywhere, yet tore down the foundation of a successful program and essentially scuttled the ship.
Last week “The Athletic”, ranked Michigan State #77 worse than mid-level programs such as Troy, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Liberty, Toledo, Miami Ohio, App’n State, Texas State and Coastal Carolina.
This week Athlon Sports ranks the Spartans #83, while “The Athletic” ranks the Spartans #88, and the slide continues.
Meanwhile, defections are decimating the recruiting class which is ranked #77 and fading fast.
And to add insult to injury, the Spartans are anointed 25-point underdogs when they host Michigan this weekend and I promise you the margin of loss will be greater than 25 points.
It is in that context, Michigan State loyalists should feel a profound sense of outrage at how Mel Tucker and his incompetent staff tore down the foundation of a solid and highly respected program built by Simon, Hollis and Dantonio and turned it into one of the most disrespected programs in America.
The litany of incoherent hiring blunders over the past 20 years should make you outraged:
There have been almost too many administrative blunders to recount, but let’s recount the missteps from Bobby Williams to Mel Tucker:
- You should be outraged that then President McPherson, along with Joel Ferguson (BOT) and aided by AD, Clarence Underwood bungled negotiations to retain Nick Saban. After countless missteps, President McPherson stepped “out of his lane” as President and acted as de facto AD and decided to forego the formality of a national search, and with the recommendation of players as his guide, he appointed career assistant, Bobby Williams to replace Nick Saban. Allowing players to nominate their head coach was an absurd blunder of enormous proportions.
- You should also be angry that Tom Izzo saluted William’s promotion.
- And you should be outraged that then AD, and former Hockey Coach, Ron Mason essentially waived the formality of organizing a search committee and by all accounts unilaterally hired John L. Smith (then Louisville Head Coach) at a disjointed signing ceremony at halftime of the GMAC Bowl in Dec 2002. Smith was best remembered for compiling losing records at 4 different schools.
- Yet, Tom Izzo saluted Smith’s hiring as well.
- You should be outraged that interim President, John Engler appointed Bill Beekman, a career administrator with Zero athletic experience, to become permanent AD after Mark Hollis stepped down. Engler disregarded proper protocol to conduct a national search for an elite AD to guide an athletic program with 750 athletes in 25 sports and a $200 Mn budget, yet Engler disregarded logic and appointed Beekman AD, while the BOT endorsed the appointment despite the fact Beekman had zero athletic experience.
- You should be outraged because Beekman’s inexperience underscored his unpreparedness. He didn’t have a “short list” of viable coaching candidates at the ready to guide him “if and when” Mark Dantonio stepped down (let’s remember, Dantonio’s departure was inevitable because his primary supporters including President, Lou Anna Simon and AD Mark Hollis had moved on in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal). Meanwhile, maintaining a “ready list” of viable coaching candidates is AD preparedness 101, ask Barry Alvarez, former AD at Wisconsin, or Gene Smith, current AD at Ohio State.
- You should be outraged that Beekman, with zero athletic experience, essentially had unilateral authority to seek & find a replacement for Dantonio (How was that possible?).
- You should be outraged because an experienced AD would have appointed an “Interim Coach” instead of scrambling to hire a permanent head coach in Feb 2020. It was way too late in the football calendar to organize a coherent coaching search prior to spring practice. And don’t blame Dantonio; he simply exercised the terms of his contract, nothing more, nothing less. Blame Engler for making Beekman AD and blame Beekman for not being prepared. The focus should have been upon stabilizing the program with an Interim Head Coach and then organizing a coherent search to fill the vacancy for the 2021 season. But Beekman was inexperienced and didn’t have a plan.
- You should be outraged that Michigan State hired Mel Tucker after he rejected the Spartans first offer and yet Beekman went back a second time “hat in hand” to essentially plead for Tucker to take the job. Tucker was an unremarkable candidate at best: he coached for 25 years at 9 different programs without distinction. He never lasted more than 3 years at any stop, he only logged one season as a Head Coach and posted a losing record, so his credentials were those of a foot soldier and not a field general and yet Beekman (with approval of MSU administration) went “hat in hand” a second time enticing Tucker with an offer to double his salary. If Beekman had experience as an AD, he would have had a viable “short list” of candidates “at the ready” to guide his next steps if a single candidate rejected an offer…but he didn’t.
- You should be outraged that Tom Izzo endorsed Mel Tucker as well as Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, of course all 3 brought disrepute to Michigan State. Let’s remember, Izzo hosted Tucker’s welcoming party and shamelessly fawned over Tucker.
- You should also be outraged that Tom Izzo and AD, Alan Haller doubled down and endorsed Mel Tucker’s $95 Mn compensation package in 2021 making Tucker a Top 5 highest paid coach in the land, even though Tucker posted just one winning season and a tepid 3rd place finish. The decision to compensate Tucker $95 Mn disregarded all principles of incentive-based compensation. If you think I am building the case that Tom Izzo should have zero input in the search for the next Head Football Coach, then you would be correct. Izzo has been a great ambassador for Spartan Basketball, but he has failed miserably as a guiding light for hiring Football Coaches, swinging, and missing on Wiliams, Smith and Tucker.
At the bottom line, hiring a coach is not a gameshow and you should be outraged at nearly 50 years of ineptitude!
I sketched out the history of Michigan State Football from the halcyon days of Hannah and Munn to the disrepute brought upon Michigan State by Mel Tucker.
Only 6 games remain, including #2 Michigan, #3 Ohio State, and #6 Penn State and the Spartans will arguably be underdogs in every game for the remainder of the season, including on the road at lowly Indiana (2-4).
That means Michigan State will most likely finish the season with a 2-10 record and not a single victory vs a Power 5 school.
Michigan State is at a catastrophic tipping point.
In my next missive I will define and describe the need for a “Blue Ribbon Search Committee” to guide the search for a Head Coach.
Michigan State can’t settle for just “any coach”.
They need a brilliant change maker, a turnaround specialist in the likeness of Biggie Munn 70 years ago, or Mark Dantonio just 15 years ago.
As someone who studies the strength and power of organizational architecture, I am “shocked” Michigan State administration bent over backward to hire Mel Tucker, a career assistant who lacked winning credentials.
Going forward, we know who many of the best coaching candidates are and immediately below is a short list, not a comprehensive list, but a short list:
- Mike Norvell (Florida State/Memphis)
- Kalen DeBoer (Washington/Fresno State/Sioux Falls)
- Coach Prime (Colorado/Jackson State)
- Lincoln Riley (USC/Oklahoma)
- Chip Kelley (UCLA/Oregon)
Each of the preceding coaches is enjoying success at their current schools, yet each has a history of “turn arounds” at previous programs.
But given the current “state of affairs” at Michigan State, the turnaround will be considered “heavy lifting” and not many “qualified” coaches will have an appetite for the task.
Consequently, it will take creative negotiations to persuade a “can’t miss” coaching candidate to take the reins of Spartan Football and that’s why Michigan State needs a “Blue-Ribbon Search Committee” whose job will be to distill a well-reasoned list of coaching candidates into a short list of “can’t miss” candidates.
Hannah hired Biggie, while Simon and Hollis hired Dantonio, so it can be done, but it will require creative thinking and incisive negotiations.
In that regard, there is a “key” role on the “Blue Ribbon Search Committee” for Urban Meyer. I’ll explain in my next missive.
Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments and opinions.