Spartans beat ‘Huskers 20-17, but there is no joy in Mudville (can a search committee find the answer?)

Harlon Barnett

The Spartans finally got a Big Ten victory but it’s hard to find joy in Mudville, because it was essentially a case of Nebraska losing versus Michigan State winning.

The Spartan eked out just 63 Yards Rushing (just 22 yards in the 2nd Half) yet the meager Rushing total was offset by 70 Yards of penalties.

In total, the Spartans managed just 295 Yards of Total Offense and very few football games are won with less than 300 Yards of Offense.

Moreover, you have to search deep into historic archives to find a team that hoists the victory flag with just 22 Yards Rushing in the 2nd Half…yet, Nebraska and its ineptness was a willing opponent.

For its part, Nebraska completed just 43% of its pass attempts for a meager 129 Yards; incurred 3 Turnovers on 2 Interceptions and 1 Fumble and that pretty much sealed the Huskers fate.

The Spartans have now compiled a dismal 3-6 record overall but just 1-5 in Big Ten competition which means they are tied with Indiana and Purdue for #14 amongst 14 Big Ten teams.

In Big Ten competition, the Spartans rank #12 Scoring Defense (yielding 30 PPG)… #13 Scoring Offense (13.5 PPG)…and #14 Penalties (70 YPG).

When measured against 130 FBS schools, the Spartans rank #116 Rush Offense…#121 Scoring Offense…and #122 Penalty yardage and by every measure, that’s a losing recipe.

If Urban Meyer was candidly analyzing Michigan State on his extraordinarily insightful analyses titled “Urban Analysis” which appears weekly on Big Ten Network, he would unequivocally characterize Michigan State as a horribly coached football team, lacking discipline and focus in all phases, and it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Now, only 3 games remain, two against highly ranked Ohio State (currently #1 in CFP) and #10 Penn State as well as a road game at Indiana and for all practical purposes, the Spartans will finish no better than 2-7 Big Ten which will arguably ensure a tie for last place.

So, looking forward, unless Michigan State Football is content to slide into the abyss of irrelevancy within the Big Ten’s recently formatted 18 team “Super Conference”, then it can’t afford to misfire on hiring its next Head Football Coach.


Hiring a championship caliber head football coach starts by forming a Championship caliber Search Committee.

I don’t need to remind you that Michigan State fired its head football coach in September pursuant to unseemly violation of his contract, whereby he breached the moral turpitude clause in the most unspeakable of manners.

That incident, admitted in testimony, cast great dishonor upon Michigan State, and now the football program is a rudderless ship without a vision or understandable plan to hire a replacement of correct course.

Let’s remember, football is the most visible symbol at major universities while the head football coach is the most visible member of its faculty and arguably the most highly paid.

With success on the football field come the spoils of victory, and for a major university that means an abundance of sustaining charitable contributions.

Yet, institutional chaos at Michigan State complicates an already difficult challenge, because by outward appearance Michigan State has lost its way.

Ever since President, Lou Anna Simon stepped down in 2018 (just 5 years ago), there have been 3 interim Presidents as well as a permanent President, yet the permanent President was forced out after just 3 short years.

Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees is partisan, divisive and fractured, which inspired Debbie Stabenow, Michigan’s Senior, US Senator, as well as members of the Faculty Senate, to vote unanimously to seek the resignation of the Board Chair whom many have argued violated board ethics as well as its code of conduct. Meanwhile, Governor Whitmer is watching closely and prepared to take emergency action if needed.

And of course, litigation of the Larry Nassar scandal still resonates while the former Dean of the business school is suing the university.

Into that morass, most championship caliber coaches who are renowned as impeccable strategists and organizational planners, would be totally reluctant to serve in an institutional quagmire of dysfunction.

Let’s remember, after Mark Hollis stepped down in 2018 there have been 3 ADs in 5 short years as well.

Bill Beekman was an interim AD who later became a permanent AD even though he had “ZERO” athletic experience, nevertheless he was given unilateral authority to hire a permanent head football coach and that rendered the hiring of Mel Tucker.

Problematically, Bill Beekman executed his coaching search without a well-conceived and coherent plan.

Bill Beekman has since reverted to a role in general administration, but the Mel Tucker drama lives on.

Meanwhile the current AD is learning on the job which means coherent decision making is arguably not his best trait as evidenced by the fact he had the temerity to endorse a $95 Mn compensation package for Mel Tucker in 2021 (the disgraced former head football coach) who at the time posted just one winning season in 3 years (including his 3-6 PAC 12 record at Colorado) and coming forward, 2023 represent the vestiges of Tucker’s 4th team to post a losing record in just 5 seasons.

Most championship caliber coaches would be totally reluctant to serve for a university in such turmoil or to serve an AD who lacks “AD cred”.

After all, most Championship caliber coaches who are renowned as impeccable strategists and organizational planners, insist upon working within an organization which isn’t “beating itself”.


Yet, there is a remedy: form a Championship caliber Search Committee.

What I am proposing has never been done before, but Michigan State needs a fresh approach in lieu of relying upon the same insular, patronizing voices, voices who lack viable insight and experience.

Voices from within which rendered decisions to hire losing head coaches such as Bobby Williams, John L. Smith and Mel Tucker who collectively compiled a Big Ten record of 31-58 (35%).

So, Michigan State needs a fresh vision, a championship vision.

Let’s remember, severing Mel Tucker’s contract will arguably enable Michigan State to revert approximately $75-$80 Mn to its operating account which means it will have ample funds to reinvest in a championship caliber coach, but Michigan State must hire a Championship caliber coach and that does not include Bobby Williams, John L. Smith, or Mel Tucker 2.0.

If Michigan State doesn’t start thinking like a champion, ala Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, et al then it won’t become a champion.

There is no margin for error, Michigan State must hire a “can’t miss” championship caliber coach and that starts by organizing an independent, championship caliber Search Committee (not a search firm) but a Championship Caliber/Blue-Ribbon Search Committee composed of members who have “been there and done that”.

A Blue-Ribbon Search Committee would consist of the brightest administrators in the land, and they would be contracted for their expert analysis as well as athletic and institutional guidance (and this can’t be overstated, Michigan State needs a much institutional guidance as it needs a championship caliber coach).

The search committee I am proposing would include 7 nationally renowned and highly regarded executives, including 2 former Presidents of Power 5 Schools; two former coaches of Power 5 Schools; and 3 former AD’s, all of whom played a role in building Championship programs at different schools, in different conferences in the past.

Immediately below, I will identify specific persons by name who by all measures are qualified to guide a search for a “can’t miss/championship caliber” head football coach.

Yet I also utilize the term “in the likeness of” to ensure in the event any of the individuals cited are unable to serve then the description will be “the likeness of”. So let’s cite specific individuals or the likeness of:


University Presidents (Shalala and Simon):

  • Donna Shalala; former Chancellor of University of Wisconsin who essentially saved Wisconsin Football from obscurity in 1990 when she “hand-picked” former Wisconsin and NFL legend, Pat Richter to take the reins as Wisconsin AD and together, they hired Barry Alvarez, former Nebraska player and Notre Dame Assistant to become Head Coach. When Shalala took the reins, Wisconsin hadn’t won a Big Ten Championship in more than 30 years. Since hiring Barry Alvarez. Wisconsin has been “the most” stable and consistent program in the land since 1990.


  • Lou Anna Simon; former President, Michigan State University who essentially saved Michigan State Football when she fired John L. Smith, appointed associate AD, Mark Hollis to execute a search for a new head coach, and together Simon and Hollis hired Mark Dantonio who became the “winningest” coach in Michigan State history.

Once again, when I reference the “likeness of”, that means, the specific individuals I reference are “preferred” yet they may not be available for such a role, so the term “likeness of” provides guidance for filling a role on the search committee.


Athletic Directors: (Alvarez, Hollis, and Bowlsby)

  • Barry Alvarez; who as Head Football Coach at Wisconsin, inherited a losing program in 1990 that hadn’t won a Big Ten title since 1959. Yet, Barry Alvarez won 3 Big Ten titles, appeared in 4 Rose Bowls and compiled 7 Top 25 finishes including 4 Top 10 finishes. After becoming AD, Alvarez then hired 3 Head Football Coaches all of whom won Big Ten West Titles and guided Wisconsin to 6 appearances in Big Ten Championship Game (tied with Ohio State). Barry Alvarez is in the Hall of Fame and embodies the spirit of a championship caliber AD.


  • Mark Hollis; as Associate AD at Michigan State, led a search committee that hired Mark Dantonio. Hollis created a “72 Point” decision making metric to measure and evaluate each coaching candidate. His committee identified 40 candidates of which 8 made the short list, while only 4 were invited for interviews including Brian Kelly (Notre Dame and LSU) as well as Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was ultimately chosen and didn’t disappoint, winning three Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl and compiling 3 consecutive Top 5 finishes. Mark Hollis coherent and methodical plan which included a 72 point evaluation metric set the table for success.


  • Bob Bowlsby; recently retired as Commissioner of Big 12 Conference where he served from 2012 to 2022. Notably, Bowlsby served as AD at University of Iowa and is credited with hiring Kirk Ferentz in 1999 to replace legendary Hayden Fry. Of course, University of Iowa is renowned for “punching above its weight class” and consistently defying the odds by knocking out bigger opponents. Bowlsby also served as AD at Stanford University and credited with hiring Jim Harbaugh in 2007. Prior to Stanford, Harbaugh was at tiny University of San Diego. In 2008. Bowlsby was selected to serve on the US Olympic Committee. Bob Bowlsby carries a portfolio of Championship credentials.


Championship Coaches:

  • Urban Meyer; Urban Meyer is currently a highly sought after football analyst yet he climbed a tall mountain from coaching obscurity to National Championships. From 1985 to 2000 Meyer was an assistant coach at 5 stops before he took his first Head Coaching job at (mid major) Bowling Green where he compiled a record of 17-6. Then Meyer took the reins at Utah (then a member of the Mountain West) and posted a record of 22-2, including an improbable Top 5 finish in 2004. Meyer then posted a record of 65-15 at Florida including two Top 5 finishes and National Championships in 2007 and 2009 respectively and finally Meyer posted a record of 83-9 at Ohio State including a National Championship in 2015. If anyone has ever watched and listened to Urban Meyer “breakdown” offenses, defenses and Special Teams on his highly acclaimed vignettes titled “Urban Analysis” then you know that Urban Meyer is amongst the most brilliant analytical minds in college football history. Urban Meyer is the embodiment of a championship caliber analyst and coach.


  • Bill Snyder; Bill Snyder is the embodiment of “turnaround specialist”. When Snyder took the reins at Kansas State in 1989, K-State was regarded as “the worst” football program in the country, compiling a deplorable record of 2-30-1(0.60%) from 1986 to 1988. Yet, Snyder had the temerity to “boldly go where no coach wanted to go” and accepted the Head Coaching job in Manhattan Kansas even though for more than 30 years, from 1955 to 1988, K-State posted a deplorable losing record of just 34 wins-118 losses-1 tie for an unspeakable 22% W/L record. During those years, K-State posted just 3 winning seasons offset by 5 winless seasons and notably, Doug Weaver, former Michigan State AD, the man who hired Muddy Waters at Michigan State, posted winless seasons in 1962, 1965 and 1966. To Snyder’s credit, 5 years after taking the reins, Snyder posted an improbable winning record of 9-2-1 and didn’t look back. And from 1993 to 2003, Snyder compiled a record of 109-29-1 (78%) including 5, Top 10 finishes. Bill Snyder embodies the essence of “what it takes” to “transform a loser to a championship contender”.


At the bottom line:

I promise you, left to its own devices, Michigan State’s current administrators do not have the wherewithal to search for and hire a championship caliber football coach.

In fact, I would argue that without intervention of a Championship caliber “Blue Ribbon” search committee identified herein, that a Championship caliber coach would not come to Michigan State without assurances from such a search committee that institutional chaos will be resolved and settled by next season.

With only 3 Big Ten games remaining and with dire prospects for the future, I intend to focus my next missive upon the Search Committee, its compensation, and the necessity for an incentive structure to compensate members of the search committee for contingent coaching success, such as: Big Ten title; consistent Big Ten titles; Invitation to CFP; consistent appearances in CFP and of course National Title, etc, etc, etc. A success based incentive program would ensure success.

Here is the conundrum: can Michigan State President, Board of Trustees, and AD come together “as one” for the good of the university? Do they even recognize their dire situation?

Succinctly, can Michigan State administrators overcome their differences and ineptitude to form and deploy a championship caliber search committee?

I think I have laid out a coherent “case study” for a Championship Caliber search committee and if Michigan State doesn’t utilize my plan (or a similar plan), then they may as well turn Spartan Stadium into a large flower garden.

Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments and opinions.

Dayne Thomas