Candidates Michigan State should be considering for its next head coach
The coaching carousel is spinning again.
Mark Dantonio surprisingly decided to step down as the head coach at Michigan State on Tuesday, with his announcement coming just one day before the National Signing Period. He was the leader of the Spartans for 13 seasons and leaves East Lansing as the winningest head coach in program history, leading MSU to 12 bowl games, three B1G titles and a College Football Playoff appearance.
Now, Michigan State is left searching for a head coach for the 2020 season, and it’ll come on short notice. There are plenty of great candidates out there who could fill Dantonio’s shoes, but the timing makes things a little more difficult in East Lansing.
Athletic director Bill Beekman may have to get creative on such short notice.
So, who would be some of the best candidates to replace Dantonio at Michigan State? Here’s a list of some popular candidates, as well as some unconventional names, who could receive a call to become the next head coach of the Spartans.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
This is the easy, popular choice. Fickell has spent most of his playing and coaching career in the B1G. Fickell was a defensive lineman at Ohio State in the mid 1990s and was a member of the Buckeyes staff from 2002-16 before taking the head coaching job at Cincinnati. He’s had outstanding success in three seasons with the Bearcats, posting back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2018 and 2019 after finishing just 4-8 in his first year with the program.
Fickell is familiar with the B1G East, understands how to win at a high level and has recruited the Midwest for the better part of two decades. Plus, he and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh trading jabs before the 2019 season over James Hudson’s eligibility, after he transferred from UM to UC, for whatever that might be worth.
The question for Fickell would be whether he’d consider leaving a well-oiled machine at Cincinnati for a program that will require some rebuilding, and on such short notice. If Fickell believes his Bearcats have a shot a New Year’s Six Bowl next season, he may be reluctant to take the job in East Lansing.
Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Look at Creighton’s overall record (28-47), and it may not be too appealing. But the 50-year-old head coach has brought consistency to a program that floundered at the bottom of the MAC before his arrival in 2014. Eastern Michigan has appeared in just four bowl games as a member of the FBS division, and three of those have come under Creighton, all within the last four years.
Plus, Creighton’s teams have defeated a B1G squad each of the last three seasons, beating Rutgers (2017), Purdue (2018) and Illinois (2019), all on the road.
Creighton has been a head coach at multiple levels, but all of his stops have been in the Midwest. He started at Ottawa University (Kansas) before moving onto Wabash College (Indiana) and Drake University (Iowa) before landing at Eastern Michigan. Maybe he hasn’t recruited on the B1G scale in the past, but he’s at least familiar with the area. Creighton may not be the flashy hire, but he’s been successful everywhere he’s gone.
Pat Narduzzi, Pitt
If Michigan State is looking to bring in someone who’s familiar with the program, Narduzzi would be a strong candidate for the job. The Pitt head coach spent eight seasons in East Lansing under Dantonio as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State and was a part of two B1G championship-winning teams. In 2013, he was the winner of the Frank Broyles Award, presented to the top assistant coach in college football.
Narduzzi has had moderate success since taking over at Pitt in 2015, finishing with a .500 record or better four times in five seasons, and appearing in the ACC Championship Game in 2018. The one issue, however, is that his teams haven’t seem to improve much over those five seasons, never winning more than eight games.
Then again, Paul Chryst was a modest 19-19 in three seasons with the Panthers, and has had unmatched success in the B1G West since being hired by Wisconsin in 2015. Perhaps Narduzzi could find more success in East Lansing with a more attractive program.
Joe Moorhead, Oregon (offensive coordinator)
Moorhead got his first head coaching gig in the FBS ranks at the wrong MSU. While Moorhead took Mississippi State to back-t0-back bowl games in 2018 and 2019, he was fired after his second season after some serious grumbling from the fanbase. But that shouldn’t be a reflection on Moorhead as much as the ridiculous expectations in Starkville.
Oh, and Moorhead just wasn’t a great fit in SEC country.
Recently, Moorhead landed the job as Oregon’s offensive coordinator, but another shot at a head coaching job, this time in the Midwest, would likely be enough to lure him away from Eugene. Again, he may not be the most attractive hire after his two seasons at Mississippi State, but his offensive ingenuity would be a nice change of pace in East Lansing.
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State (offensive coordinator)
Considering the way Wilson and Indiana parted ways, Michigan State might steer clear of the Ohio State offensive coordinator, but he’s still an interesting, and unconventional, candidate for the job.
It took some time for Wilson to establish a foundation at Indiana, but when his offenses started producing and his defenses found a way to get stops, the Hoosiers were able to reach back-to-back bowl games (2015-16) for the first time since the 1990-91 seasons. And at Ohio State, Wilson’s offenses have been high-powered and productive.
Wilson may not be the first option for Michigan State, but he’s probably worth at least a phone call.
Butch Jones, Alabama (analyst)
It’s been a few years since Jones has been a head coach, but he seems to be a candidate for several openings across the country. And with experience as a head coach at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee, a spot like Michigan State could be a good fit.
Jones has spent the last two seasons on Nick Saban’s staff as an analyst, which is always attractive to potential suitors. And though he was run out of Tennessee, he’s had just three losing seasons in 11 years as a head coach. He’s hit eight wins or more seven times, too.
Jones could be a strong recruiter at Michigan State, especially as a native of the state. But would he be able to win at a high level in the B1G East? That might be the biggest concern.
Mike Tressel, Michigan State (acting head coach)
The timing of Dantonio’s departure came so late that athletic director Bill Beekman may have to take his chances with someone currently on the staff — at least for a one-season trial basis. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Dantonio’s decision didn’t come until a day before National Signing Day, Tressel probably wouldn’t be a viable candidate. But since he’s been with the program for so long — he just completed his 13th year on the staff — he might be able to keep players from traveling to the transfer portal by bus.
Plus, Michigan State’s defenses have been pretty solid under Tressel. So there’s something.
Matt Canada, Pittsburgh Steelers (quarterbacks coach)
An inexperienced head coach, but someone who’s been around college football, especially the B1G, quite a bit. Canada has had stops at Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland as an offensive coordinator, and served as the interim head coach for the Terrapins in 2018, following DJ Durkin’s suspension and subsequent termination.
This would be a bit of a risky hire, as Canada doesn’t have any head coaching experience outside of the one season at Maryland. Giving him the reins to a program that is expected to be a consistent contender in the B1G East probably wouldn’t be too popular among the fans.
Canada would certainly bring new flavor to East Lansing, but the risk may be higher than the reward. At least he’d bring some B1G experience to the job.
Phil Parker, Iowa (defensive coordinator)
How about a long-shot candidate?
There’s very little chance that Parker would be interested in leaving Iowa City for East Lansing, despite being a former player and alum at Michigan State. He seems quite content in his role as a defensive coordinator, and at 56, rebuilding in the B1G East may not be at the top of the priority list.
But it is hard to ignore the success Parker has enjoyed during his 20-plus seasons under Kirk Ferentz with the Hawkeyes. If some of the other guys on this list are ignoring the phone calls, what’s the harm in seeing what it would take to bring Parker back to MSU?