LSU victory underscores just how far the Spartans have fallen

LSU beat Clemson last night to win the National Championship, and the prolific Offenses on display from both teams underscores just how far Michigan State has fallen and “just how far” the Spartans are from Championship contention.

Let’s recall the degrees of separation: the Spartans lost to Ohio State 34-10, and Ohio State lost to Clemson 29-23, and Clemson lost to LSU 42-25. In the National Championship game, LSU compiled an eye glazing 628 Yards of Offense including 165 Yards Rushing, and an amazing 463 Yards Passing with a Quarterback they picked up in the so called “Transfer Portal”.

By comparison, the Spartans eked out just 285 Yards of Total Offense in a 34-10 loss to Ohio State in October, including a meager 67 Yards Rushing and 218 Yards Passing, and thereafter stumbled to a 4-5 record in Big Ten competition, and managed just a single victory vs Big Ten teams with winning records.

Of course, the Spartans have fallen out of Championship conversation primarily due to a dysfunctional Offense, but what is the plan to correct course?

What is the plan of the President, AD and Head Football Coach?

When teams are closely matched, football is a game of chess, putting best players in favorable matchups, but the Spartans are no longer competitive in terms of personnel or scheme, and so Michigan State’s Offense is screaming for staff changes and/or scheme changes, but will they make changes?

Don’t count on it…

Apparently MSU President, its AD and Head Football Coach are satisfied with a Big Ten record of 17-19 over the past 4 seasons because it appears the Spartans will stand pat, let the clock expire and  “fail” to implement any changes to their coaching staff.

I wrote in December the “sweet spot” for executing coaching changes was between the end of the regular season and the Bowl games. After all, it’s an obvious time to implement change; it’s the end of the regular season, and if a team had a poor season (or two, or three) like the Spartans, then it’s an optimum time to execute change. After all, it’s more important to build a plan for the future than focusing upon winning a lower tier Bowl game.

But the Spartans didn’t act before their Bowl game, so what is their plan to correct course?

19 FBS Schools have made coaching changes:

Of course, the next best opportunity to change staff is immediately after Bowl games which is essentially the first week of January, and yet whether a given school decides to execute coaching changes in December (before the Bowl games), or the first week of January (after the Bowl games), the faster the changes are made, the better for all parties.

So, what is the Spartans plan? Their silence is deafening.

The Spartans last played on December 27 nearly 3 weeks ago, and yet there is no sign of change. It’s worth noting that 19 FBS Schools across the landscape have changed Coaching staffs, including 8 Power 5 schools and immediately below is a list of Head Coaching changes at those schools:

Power 5 Head Coaching changes In  Out
Arkansas Sam Pittman Chad Morris
Boston College Jeff Hafley Steve Addazio
Florida State Mike Norvell Willie Taggart
Mississippi State Mike Leach Joe Moorhead
Missouri Eli Drinkwitz Barry Odom
Ole Miss Lane Kiffin Matt Luke
Rutgers Greg Schiano Chris Ash
University of Washington Jimmy Lake Chris Petersen (resigned)

In the preceding chart, it’s noteworthy that the enigmatic Mike Leach and equally enigmatic Lane Kiffin were hired by Mississippi State and Ole Miss respectively. There were also Head Coaching changes at lower tier, yet highly regarded programs such as Appalachian State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Middle Tennessee State, San Diego State and South Florida to name a few, so that means there are 19 FBS schools that determined their programs were headed in the wrong direction and took action.

Yet, what is the Spartans plan to correct course?

Florida State moves decisively: 

It’s notable that Florida State has been one of the most successful football programs in the country over the past 40 years, and yet after a 3 year decline whereby they compiled a dismal record of 18-20 overall, FSU took action and made a coaching change amidst fan unrest and declining attendance.

Given their floundering fortunes, Florida State executed one of the most visible coaching changes in the country. They fired Willie Taggart and hired Mike Norvell from Memphis. Norvell is only 38 years old and earned his coaching stripes as an Assistant Coach at 3 different schools including Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State prior to getting a nod to coach Memphis. At Memphis, Norvell compiled an impressive record of 38-15 overall, and 24-8 in the American Athletic Conference.

Under Mike Norvell’s guidance, Memphis finished #1 in the AAC West Division for the past 3 seasons, and this past season, Norvell compiled an impressive record of 12-1 which earned Memphis an invitation to the Cotton Bowl: no small feat for a non-Power 5 school. In spite of this incredible achievement, Norvell did not coach Memphis in the Cotton Bowl choosing instead to get an early start at Florida State.

But what is the Spartans plan to correct course?

Of course, according to President Stanley, the Spartans are not in the market for a Head Coach (fair enough), but it’s notable that Florida State and its Athletic Administration made an emphatic decision to change their coaching staff and in so doing sent an unspoken message to fans, students, ticket holders and donors that their voices matter and that winning championships is the goal

Mike Norvell’s success at Florida State is yet to be determined, but Florida State made a decisive, expedient, emphatic and calculated decision that Mike Norvell can help FSU reset the compass.

But what is the Spartans plan to correct course?

Offensive Coordinators are the straw that stirs the drink:

Inasmuch as 19 FBS schools changed Head Coaches it also means some pretty good Offensive Coordinators are on the market, including Joe Moorhead.

For what it’s worth, Joe Moorhead got fired as Head Coach at Mississippi State after “a very short” two years. Remember Joe Moorhead? You should. While Moorhead didn’t pass muster as Head Coach at Mississippi State by way of compiling a record of 14-12 overall and 7-9 SEC West, nevertheless he was extremely successful as an Offensive Coordinator, most notably as Offensive Coordinator at Penn State in 2016 and 2017.

In those two seasons, Penn State finished with a record of 22-5 overall, and posted an impressive Big Ten record of 15-3, including a Big Ten East title in 2016 and #2 finish in Big Ten East in 2017. Under Joe Moorhead, Penn State’s Offense was prolific: Penn State averaged 432 Yards and 38 Points per game in 2016. And in 2017, Penn State averaged a robust 460 Yards and 41 Points per game.

Let’s compare Moorhead’s Offensive stats at Penn State to the Spartans: last season the Spartans finished with a Big Ten record of 4-5, averaged just 372 Yards and a meager 22 Points per game and needless to say those stats pale in comparison to Penn State’s Offensive production under Joe Moorhead.

Would Joe Moorhead be a good “cultural” fit on Mark Dantonio’s staff? That’s unknown, but at the minimum, Joe Moorhead should be on a “short list” of candidates to interview, after all, Moorhead knows the Big Ten landscape in terms of recruiting, game prep and play calling.

Has President Stanley and AD, Bill Beekman met with Mark Dantonio for a season ending review of football operations? Have they developed a plan to “fix” the Spartans floundering Offense?

Assuredly the President, the AD and the Head Football Coach have developed a “short list” of candidates to interview and assuredly Joe Moorhead would be on that list? Or have the Spartans even discussed changes to the staff? Or problematically, has there even been a season ending review of football operations?

So what is the Spartans plan to correct course?

While the Spartans drag their feet, Oregon interviewed Joe Moorhead: 

Oregon posted an impressive record of 12-2 this past season, with signature victories vs USC, Utah and Wisconsin.

And while Oregon had a dynamic Offense in its own regard, averaging 433 Yards and 35 Points per game, they are seeking to replace their Offensive Coordinator who departed Oregon to become Head Football Coach at UNLV. In that regard, Oregon interviewed Joe Moorhead.

Yet what action will the Spartan Athletic Department take to improve their floundering Offense?

Let’s remember, the Spartans Offense is in free fall. The Offense has declined from championship levels of 500 Yards and 43 Points per game in 2014, to just 372 Yards and 22 Points per game in 2019. That’s a decline of nearly 130 Yards and 22 Points per game. Or said another way, the Spartans point production has declined 50% since 2014. So, it’s not hard to determine why the Spartans won/lost record has declined from 11-2 and a Top 5 finish in 2014, to a middling 7-6 in 2019.

But what are the Spartans plan to correct course?

At the bottom line…do the Spartans have a plan?

Sadly, the joyous excitement that surrounded Spartan Football from 2007 to 2015 has evaporated and disappeared.

Meanwhile Michigan State President, its AD and the Head Football Coach stand idly by and watch without action. Let’s remember, only 25,000 spectators attended the season ending game vs Maryland, and that will be the norm and not the exception if the President, AD and Head Football Coach don’t intervene and attempt to improve the program, because ticket holders will not have an appetite to expend “big money” for seat licenses to watch a losing product.

As I pointed out, 19 schools across the country have changed their entire staffs, while others are selectively changing position coaches and/or coordinators. As recently as last season, Ryan Day was Offensive Coordinator at Ohio State and now he’s Head Football Coach of one of the best teams in the country. And as recently as 2016, Ed Orgeron was a Defensive Line Coach at LSU and now he’s Head Coach of a Championship Football team.

If a team isn’t getting better, then it’s getting worse, and the Spartans 17-19 Big Ten record over the past 4 seasons is self-evident. If the football product doesn’t improve, the Spartan Athletic Department will get a steady diet of swooning attendance

Yet, what is the plan to correct course?

We all know, you can’t continue to “do the same thing, and expect a different result”, so what is the plan?

If the AD doesn’t feel up to the task, then he needs to raise his hand, because fans, students, ticketholders, and donors expect results. At the minimum, they expect to be relevant.

So, the AD has a big task ahead, but without experience, can he measure up to the best AD’s in the land including Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, or Gene Smith at Ohio State, or legendary AD’s of days gone by such as Don Canham of Michigan and/or Biggie Munn at Michigan State to name just a few. That is how the Spartans current AD will be measured. Is he up to the task?

The role of AD dictates leadership and action, it’s not a ceremonial role and there is nowhere to hide.

What is the AD’s plan?