Spartans want to take steps toward upper echelon

How can MSU establish itself as one of the top programs in the Big Ten on a perennial basis? That is what MSU officials have been trying to accomplish this for the better part of the past two decades. Can John L. Smith do what Darryl Rogers, George Perles, Nick Saban and Bobby Williams failed to do?

(EAST LANSING) - Is it Dowdell or Stanton or Reaves?

That's the question foremost in the minds of most Spartan fans, but those atop the MSU program have their minds fixed on tougher issues.

How can they establish MSU as one of the top programs in the Big Ten on a perennial basis?

Really, MSU officials have been trying to accomplish this for the better part of the past two decades since Duffy Daughtery departure, combined with Bo Schembechler's arrival tilted the balance of power in the conference.

After ascending to national title heights in the 50's and 60's under Daugherty, a series of ill-equipped head coaching choices bumbled and stumbled the Spartans to the bottom of the conference.

Denny Stoltz got the program put on probation before being dismissed in favor of the short-lived term of Darryl Rogers. Frank "Muddy" Waters seemed to be in over his head, compiling a dismal 10-23 record in his two years as the Spartans head man.

George Perles restored a measure of respectibility to East Lansing when he directed the Green and White to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 1987, their first since 1978 when Darryl Rogers took MSU to Pasadena.

Spartan pride burst throughout the state, but even as Perles boasted that MSU had "knocked their socks off" in the recruiting wars with Michigan, he was losing ground overall. After several highly publicized skirmishes with MSU administration, Perles was dismissed and former defensive coordinator Nick Saban was named head coach.

Saban began rebuilding the recruiting base the Perles established, but the pace was too slow for his liking. Eventually he decided that the shadow casted over his program by the University of Michigan was too much to overcome and bolted for Louisiana State University, four years later, he won a share of the national championship.

Enter Bobby Williams. Williams took over the program when Saban decided to bolt for LSU after the end of the regular season. With the program in shock over Saban's sudden departure, Williams rallied the team and recorded a stunning victory over the University of Florida in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando - the heart of Florida recruiting territory - winning the hearts of Spartans all over the state who demanded that Williams be given the reigns permanently.

But Williams turned out to be a bitter disappointment. While he was able to recruit top talent, he seemed ill prepared for the day-to-day grind of being a head coach. He scratched out a couple of controversial wins over Michigan, but with recruting scandals involving tight end Eric Knott, the suspension of quarterback Jeff Smoker and running back Duwan Moss - both co-captains named by Williams - the program was once again on a downward spiral and mired in dissarray.

Williams soon joined Saban as one of his top recruiters at LSU.

MSU embarked on a search for the next man to lead the University back to prominence. Penn State offensive coordinator Fran Ganter turned down a chance to lead the program, instead hoping to be heir-apparent to 80 plus Joe Paterno. Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, a great choice, flirted with the job, only to turn it down for a possible head coaching job in the NFL, which he eventually got with the Cincinnati Bengals.

That led MSU to visit coach John L. Smith who was the head coach at Louisville. Smith had a clandestine visit with new Athletic Director Ron Mason two days before his team was to play in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. After striking a deal, word began to filter through the sidelines on game night that Smith was leaving. Athletic Director Bobby Patrino was furious, blasting Mason and Smith for their conspiracy, but Smith was now the man to rebuild MSU's fortunes.

Smith shocked Big Ten prognosticators by installing his spread offense in record time and the Spartans marched to a 8-4 mark. Now on the eve of the 2004-05 season, once again Michigan State is being picked to finish in or near the cellar of the conference.

But despite the presence of many detractors who believe the coach is too "batty" and has too many outside interest. They cite Smith running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and his trek this summer to Mt. Killlamanjaro as part of the reason he can't succeed in East Lansing. Many of those believe that Michigan State could have hired a higher profile coach than Smith, but in reality Smith has a good chance to succeed where his predecessors, like Darryl Rogers, Nick Saban and George Perles failed.

Smith views MSU as his dream job. He doesn't view it as a stepping stone as did some of his predecessors, he doesn't aspire to be the athletic director.

He genuinely seems settled on the task at hand. He has begun establishing recruiting pipelines in the East Coast, the Midwest and the hotbed of Florida. His work has paid dividends.

Bandit SirDarean Adams from Bradenton, FL, tackle Roland Martin from Chicago, quarterback Brian Hoyer from Ohio and wide receiver Carl Grimes from Michigan all will be key pieces of a bright future for the Spartans.

Smith's spread offense has surprised Big Ten opponents with its ability to put points up in bunches. Ironically, only Michigan and Ohio State were really able to slow the Spartans from scoring big numbers in conference games last season.

As the 2004-05 season dawns, Michigan State will face another team that is hoping to climb the same path up the mountain to the college football elite, Rutgers.

So while the choice of Dowdell, Reaves or Stanton may help determine the outcome of MSU's opener, Smith and the MSU brass have bigger goals in mind. The choice may turn out to be one that favors the longterm health of the program.

That could mean showing prospective recruits that incoming freshman get to play immediately at Michigan State.....maybe even freshmen quarterbacks.

Spartan Nation Top Stories