Joe Rossi is the Spartans newly appointed Defensive Coordinator

But who is Joe Rossi?

Is Rossi the Defensive answer or is he a Defensive question mark?

Of course, Jonathon Smith was able to bring most of his battle tested and highly regarded assistant coaches from Oregon State to Michigan State and that enabled Smith to move quickly.

The notable void in Smith’s cadre of coaches was Trent Bray, his prized Defensive Coordinator who was hired as Oregon State Head Football Coach when Jonathon Smith resigned.

Consequently, Smith needed to shore up his Spartan staff and he didn’t waste time: he hired Joe Rossi from the University of Minnesota as Defensive Coordinator.

So, let’s ask this question: Who is Joe Rossi and is he the answer or a Defensive question mark?

Let’s look.

Joe Rossi profile:

Joe Rossi is 44 years old, a Pittsburgh native with solid football credentials.

Rossi graduated from renowned Pittsburgh Central Catholic HS, which is home to a host of former All Americans including but not limited to QB, Marc Bulger, as well as Pitt All American QB and NFL Hall of Famer, Dan Marino.

Rossi played collegiately at Allegheny (PA) and then embarked upon a 22-year coaching career, commencing at Theil (PA) College; then Maine, next he commenced Big Ten coaching stints at Rutgers in 2012, Minnesota 2017, and now Michigan State.

Rossi was an assistant coach at Minnesota for the past 7 years, including Defensive Coordinator and LB Coach since 2019.

And it’s notable, Rossi was promoted to Defensive Coordinator at each stop during his coaching career, so he clearly understands Defense and he is well versed in Big Ten competition including the importance of controlling the Line of Scrimmage vs all Offensive schemes, in all kinds of weather.

The comparative stats are eye opening.

I don’t need to remind you the once proud Spartan Defense became an unmitigated liability under the dysfunctional Defensive architecture of Scottie Hazelton.

Of course, Hazelton was Defensive Coordinator & Linebacker Coach, and he was assisted in his flawed system by Harlon Barnett (Secondary Coach) and the entire dysfunctional Defense was endorsed by Mel Tucker.

Here’s a snapshot:

In 2021: in Big Ten competition, the Spartan Defense ranked #14 (dead ass last amongst 14 Big Ten teams) yielding an eye glazing 463 YPG.

Further to that point, in Big Ten competition the Spartan Pass Defense ranked #130 (dead ass last) when measured against 130 FBS schools yielding an astounding 338 YPG which also ranked #14 (dead ass last) amongst 14 Big Ten teams.

In 2022: in Big Ten competition, the Spartan Defense ranked #13 (out of 14 Big Ten teams) yielding 437 YPG, and that was underscored by the Rush Defense yielding a humiliating 208 YPG which ranked “dead ass last” amongst 14 Big Ten teams.

And finally…

In 2023: in Big Ten competition, the Spartan Defense ranked #13 (out of 14) in all phases including: Total Defense; Score Defense; Rush Defense; and Pass Defense and who could forget the Spartans being humiliated and outscored by a cumulative score of 170-10 by Washington, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State.

Let’s compare 3 year “side by side” averages (2021, 2022, 2023) between Joe Rossi at Minnesota, and Scottie Hazelton at Michigan State:

  • Rush Defense: Minnesota yielded 121 YPG…Michigan State yielded 149 YPG
  • Pass Defense: Minnesota yielded 195 YPG…Michigan State yielded 267 YPG
  • Total Defense: Minnesota yielded 316 YPG…Michigan State yielded 416 YPG
  • Score Defense: Minnesota yielded 19 PPG…Michigan State yielded 27 PPG

In brief, Joe Rossi’s “no nonsense” Defense yielded 100 yards less per game than Scottie Hazelton’s 4-2-5 and/or 3-3-5 deployment and over 3 years that’s an astounding total of 3600 yards.

And let’s underscore this point, Hazelton must have forgotten he was in the Big Ten.

After all, Hazelton’s somewhat “gimmicky” 4-2-5 and/or 3-3-5 Defenses were not particularly well suited for the “run heavy/run first” Big Ten which force most Defenses to deploy a Front 7, in other words 4 down linemen with 3 Linebackers.

In one of the low points of 2022, the Spartan Rush Defense yielded a whopping 208 YPG in Big Ten competition and ranked 14 out of 14, or dead ass last because opposing Running Backs easily broke contain and reached the second level…thereby systematically and methodically moving the chains.

By contrast, in 2021, Rossi’s Defense at Minnesota compiled impressive Defensive stats, including #3 Total Defense; #8 Rush Defense (98 YPG); #8 Pass Defense (181 YPG); and #6 Score Defense (17 PPG) when measured against 130 FBS Schools.

Then in 2022, Rossi’s Defense ranked #8 Total Defense; and #4 Score Defense (14 PPG) when measured against 130 FBS Schools

We can also note in 2022, Rossi’s Defense ranked a very solid #15 Rush Defense; and #15 Pass Defense when measured against 130 FBS Schools.

So, it would be fair to say, Rossi’s Defensive stats are championship caliber or “Dantonio-esque”…something not seen during the ill-fated Scottie Hazelton, Harlon Barnett, Mel Tucker experiment.

At the bottom line (Smith is distinguishing himself as an organizational architect)

For what it’s worth, Mel Tucker was incompetent as a program architect.

And while Jonathon Smith’s reclamation of Spartan Football is still a work in progress, I would argue he is slowly distinguishing himself as an program builder and organizational architect.

In fact, I would argue Smith is demonstrating that he is a program builder in the likeness of Clarence “Biggie” Munn and Mark Dantonio, the two Spartan “championship caliber” coaches who inherited the most difficult “turn around” challenges in Michigan State history.

To his credit, Smith retained a solid staff of six (6) assistant coaches from Oregon State then added a championship caliber Defensive Coordinator from Minnesota then jettisoned Tucker’s band of misfit coordinators and hangers-on.

Of course, Smith retained a few Spartan recruits with championship caliber credentials such as 4-Star WR, Nick Marsh from River Rouge.

Smith also retained two highly regarded 3-Star Running Backs from Texas, notably Makhi Frazier (McKinney, TX) and Brandon Tullis (Frisco, TX), whom he recruited at Oregon State then convinced those RBs to join him at Michigan State.

Smith also convinced Wyatt Hook, a 6’6”, 235 # TE from Cupertino, CA whom he recruited at Oregon State to join the Spartans.

And of course, we must acknowledge the gem of recruiting so far: Smith acquired Aidan Chiles, a 4-Star, QB from Downey, California, whom Smith originally recruited at Oregon State.

Chiles played sparingly (but meaningfully) as a true freshman at Oregon State and by all measures he is a gem waiting to be developed and polished.

It’s notable, after Smith resigned at Oregon State, Chiles entered the Transfer Portal then Smith enticed Chiles to join the Spartans.

Landing Aidan Chiles is a huge “get”.

In fact, there are many analysts around the country who regard Aidan Chiles as “the” #1 QB transfer in the land, and that’s especially notable when measured against other available Transfer QB’s such as 5-Star, QB Dante Moore from UCLA and/or 5-Star QB, Kyle McCord from Ohio State.

Over the long haul, perhaps Aidan Chiles will become a latter-day Joe Burrow who left Ohio State for LSU and then won a National Title?

We’ll see…

At any measure, the Offensive Coordinator is set, the Run Game Coordinator is set and now the Defensive Coordinator is set, and each position is now filled with championship caliber coaches.

And for the first time in 4 years there is “hope” that Michigan State Football will regain its dignity and pride with Jonathon Smith leading the Spartans.

Thank you for reading.