The Pinstripe Bowl is not a pacifier for irate Alumni

The Spartans are invited to the Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx to play Wake Forest at Yankee Stadium on December 27, but not everyone is happy.

The Spartans will arguably stay in 5-Star accommodations in Manhattan and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the most exciting cities in the world. For 18-23 year old student-athletes, New York is a tremendous destination for a team that finished the Big Ten season with a dismal record of just 4 wins and 5 losses.

But for 500,000 alumni, fans and season ticket holders, the Pinstripe Bowl is not a pacifier that will sooth their ruffled feelings.

Let’s make this clear, a Big Ten record of 4-5 does not receive a passing grade. This season alone, 2 of the Spartans 4 Big Ten victories came at the hands of Maryland and Northwestern each having posted just a single Big Ten victory, while another victory came at the hands of Rutgers which posted a winless Big Ten record of 0-8. All combined, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers posted a cumulative Big Ten record of 2-25, so those victories are not exactly a “badge of honor”.

This is the Spartans second losing Big Ten season in the last 4 years and the Spartans are trending in the wrong direction inasmuch as they have posted a Big Ten record of just 17 wins and 19 losses from 2016 through 2019.

The Spartans dismal record can’t be rationalized as tough luck, a few bad games, a few bad officiating calls, or a stroke of bad luck due to injuries, because the numbers when measured in Big Ten competition don’t lie:

  • #11 Scoring…19.8 Points per game
  • #11 Turnover Margin…(-0.44)
  • #12 Rushing Offense…111.6 Yards per game

When measured in Big Ten competition, the Spartans also rank in the bottom 50th percentile in terms of Punting (#12)…Field Goals (#9)…Punt Returns (#9)…Kickoff Returns (#10)…and Kickoff Coverage (#10). While the Spartans Offense averaged just 19.8 Points per game in Big Ten competition, the Spartans Defense yielded 26.4 Points per game which renders a negative scoring margin of minus 6.6 Points per game (-6.6) and the Spartans finished in 9th place in the Big Ten.

The President and the AD will either oversee success or endorse failure:

Alumni, fans and ticket holders are beyond unhappy, call it irate if you like.

So the President and the AD better channel their best incarnations of the late, legendary John Hannah and the late, legendary Clarence “Biggie” Munn who together set the standard for Spartan athletics, and thereafter correct course because the stunning decline of Spartan Football over the past 4 season is unacceptable to all who follow Spartan Football.

Let’s remind the President and AD that correcting course isn’t a Mark Dantonio problem alone, it is a University problem and the President and AD better take note.

After all, success starts at the top and President Stanley and AD, Bill Beekman sit in chairs of accountability, and they will either oversee success or they will endorse failure.

Let’s remind the President and AD about the standard set by Hannah and Munn:

From its inception, football has played an integral role at Michigan State.

If we dial back the clock, Head Coaches such as Chester Brewer (1903-1910) won more than 80% of his games; John Macklin (1911-1915) won more than 85% of his games, and Jim Crowley (1929-1932) won more than 70% of his games yet Michigan State didn’t quite measure up on the national stage prior to John Hannah.

Of course, John Hannah became President in 1941 but he wasn’t simply an administrative overseer, rather he was a visionary, an institutional architect with an ambitious plan to grow Michigan State from its limited charter as a regional agricultural college into a world class Research University and football was his ticket. John Hannah intended to grow Michigan State beyond its quaint confines of Circle Drive: he had a massive amount of land to expand and Hannah had big ideas.

When he contemplated institutional growth, Hannah instinctively understood that Football could be (and would be) a rallying point to stretch the boundaries of Michigan State. He understood Football would stir the excitement and enthusiasm of alumni, legislators and supporters.

Hannah wrote, “(Football) and athletics unify a university probably more than any other feature of the institution. They merge the enthusiasm of students, alumni, faculty, friends and supporters of the university, and all to the university’s good.”

Hannah had a plan:

So, it was clear that Hannah intended for athletics in general and football in particular to facilitate institutional growth.

When Hannah became President in 1941, Ralph Young was the AD and Charley Bachman was Head Football Coach. In fact, Ralph Young was AD from 1923 to 1954, a total of 31 years. Young had also been Head Football Coach from 1923 to 1927 but compiled an unremarkable record of 18-22-1.

Charley Bachman was Head Football Coach from 1933 to 1946, and compiled a solid won/lost record of 70-34-10 (61%) and while Bachman’s record was solid, it wasn’t great. While Bachman posted victories vs a few national powers, nevertheless most victories came vs an collection of regional and intersectional teams such as Carnegie Tech, Detroit (UofD), Grinnell, Illinois Wesleyan, Marquette and Wayne (State) to name a few, yet that body of work simply didn’t stir the imagination of the national football landscape.

Michigan State had tried unsuccessfully for decades to gain admission to the Big Ten but its resume was insufficient, and yet gaining admission to the Big Ten was one of Hannah’s “key” components for growing Michigan State after the war.

After all, Michigan State was a “land grant” college with a massive amount of land at its disposal; great athletic facilities, and Hannah had access to the GI Bill and he intended to punch that ticket by welcoming an abundance of GI’s after the war. Yet the “key” component was gaining admission to the Big Ten.

And while Bachman was a solid coach, and while Ralph Young was a solid AD, after decades in their respective roles, it became clear neither had the wherewithal to catapult Michigan State onto the national football landscape by gaining admission to the Big Ten.

Hannah was “hands on”:

And so John Hannah became the de facto AD and put on his “AD Hat” and did what John Hannah did best: he constructed a plan and went in search of a Head Football Coach who could help Hannah reach his goals.

And John Hannah found Clarence “Biggie” Munn, and Munn became Head Coach in 1947 and Charley Bachman was forced to move on. Munn wasn’t any coach: he was a highly regarded man of principal with impeccable athletic credentials.

Munn was a two time consensus All American and Captain at University of Minnesota football team, playing Guard & Fullback for then Head Coach, the legendary H.O. “Fritz” Crisler. Munn was also a Sprinter and Captain of Minnesota Track & Field Team recording a sub 10 second 100 Yard Dash. After graduating from Minnesota, Munn became a Head Coach at Albright College and won 81% of his games. Thereafter, Munn spent 7 years as Assistant Coach to Fritz Crisler at University of Michigan after Crisler departed Minnesota to become Head Football Coach at University of Michigan. It was at Michigan that Hannah recruited Munn.

Munn started fast at Michigan State. In 1947, his first season, Munn compiled a record of 7-2 (78%). In 1948, Munn compiled a record of 6-2-2 a modest record yet the Spartans ranked 14th in the land. In  just two seasons the Spartans were getting national recognition under Munn and due to the persistent lobbying by John Hannah, Michigan State was granted admission to the Big Ten in December 1948 although the Spartans wouldn’t play a complete Big Ten schedule until 1953. Nevertheless, the Spartans were now a member of the prestigious Big Ten.

In 1949, Munn’s third season, he compiled a record of 6-3 (66%) and finished #19 in the land. In 1950, Munn compiled a record of 8-1 (89%) and ranked #8 in the land.

And then in 1951 and 1952, in just his 5th & 6th seasons at Michigan State, Munn compiled “back to back” 9-0 seasons, and won “back to back” National Titles.

Interestingly, Munn coached just one more season and guided the Spartans to a 9-1 won/lost record including a Big Ten Championship in the Spartans first season of Big Ten competition. The Spartans were invited to the Rose Bowl and posted a 28-20 victory vs UCLA and at the end of the season, the Spartans were ranked #3 in the land which was their 3rd consecutive ranking in the Top 3.

Biggie Munn stepped down, he was just 45.

In terms of signature victories, Munn beat Notre Dame in 3 consecutive games from 1950 through 1952, as well as beating Michigan in 4 consecutive games from 1950 through 1953.

Together, Hannah and Munn had built the foundation for Spartan Football and by 1954, Michigan State was one of the Top 10 largest Universities in the country. At that point, Munn took the reins as AD and took Spartan Athletics to new heights while Michigan State continued to grow in size and stature just as Hannah had predicted.

Munn’s remarkable transition from Head Coach to AD:

Before he stepped down as AD in 1971, Biggie Munn created an environment of Athletic excellence at Michigan State University, including but not limited to winning or sharing 6 National Football Titles from 1951 through 1966.

Munn was also instrumental in bringing Forddy Anderson to Michigan State as Head Basketball Coach from Bradley in 1954. Anderson guided the Bradley Braves to NCAA Runner up in 1949/50 & 1953/54, and thereafter, Forddy Anderson guided the Spartans to Big Ten titles in 1956/57 and 1958/59 including a Final Four in 1957 and an Elite 8 in 1959.

During Biggie Munn’s tenure as AD from 1954 to 1971 (17 years), he was guided by John Hannah’s declarative statement regarding the importance of athletics (“Athletics unify a university probably more than any other feature of the institution. They merge the enthusiasm of students, alumni, faculty, friends and supporters of the university, and all to the university’s good”).

So, it would be fair to say, from 1947 to 1971, Hannah (Hannah as President) and Munn (Munn as Coach and AD) raised the bar for Spartan athletics across the athletic landscape:

  • 11 Big Ten, Cross Country titles from 1955 to 1971 and 4 NCAA titles from 1955 to 1959
  • 7 Big Ten Wrestling titles from 1961 to 1971 and a NCAA title in 1966.
  • 3 Big Ten Football titles: 1953, 1965, 1966 and 6 NCAA Football titles: 1951, 1952, 1957, 1959, 1965, 1966
  • 3 Big Ten Basketball titles: 1956/57, 1958/59; and 1966/67
  • 2 NCAA Soccer Titles in 1967 and 1968
  • 1 NCAA Gymnastics title in 1958 (Gymnastics was disbanded 2001)
  • 1 NCAA Hockey title in 1966

So, why are we referencing the success of Spartans Athletics in general, and Spartan Football in particular during the era of John Hannah and Biggie Munn?

Because success starts at the top. A championship culture doesn’t happen by accident. Rather the framework for winning championships is set by the “top executives”, and so the standards set by Hannah and Munn are the standards by which all Presidents and AD’s will be measured, including President Stanley and AD, Bill Beekman.

As a stark reminder, Spartan Football has compiled a dismal Big Ten record of 17-19 since 2016 and not only would Hannah and Munn not approve, but 500,000 Alumni, fans and ticket holders want to know how the current President and AD intend to correct course? The problem won’t fix itself.

After all, the title of President and AD are not ceremonial roles. Success requires impeccable planning, and Hannah and Munn demonstrated what can be accomplished with a vision and a plan. Yet we are still awaiting to hear the goals and plans of the current President and AD.

The role of President and AD is not simply managing “day to day” activities…or as some would say, “paying the bills and keeping the lights on”. Managing “day to day” activities is not a plan.

Creating a championship plan and then executing that plan is what is expected of the President and AD…and so we are awaiting for the voices of President Stanley and Bill Beekman to be heard!

At the bottom line:

We don’t have to search far and wide for other examples of success.

In the next couple of weeks we will also examine how Donna Shalala (Chancellor), Pat Richter (AD) and Barry Alvarez (Head Football Coach) transformed Wisconsin Athletics from a “backwater” in 1988 into one of the most successful and consistent athletic programs in the country.

We will also examine, how Gene Smith consistently keeps Ohio State athletics in the forefront of excellence.

And finally, we will examine how Chalmers “Bump” Elliott created a Championship culture and transformed Iowa athletics from the bottom of the Big Ten to the top of the Big Ten by hiring some of the most successful coaches in the country, from Hayden Fry (Football)…to Dr. Tom Davis (Basketball)…and Dan Gable (Wrestling).