(ALLEN PARK, MI)--The Detroit Lions have hired former Michigan State head coach Bobby Williams to coach their running backs today. Williams, 44, was the running backs coach and assistant head coach when Nick Saban was the head man at MSU. When Saban bolted the Spartans for a lucrative head coaching job at LSU, Williams was named head coach without a national search.
His hiring was hailed by minority groups because Williams became just the third Division I-A head coach in the country. After starting with a bang, a 37-34 win in the "Swamp" over the Florida Gators in the 1999 Citrus Bowl. But then the Spartans went into the tank, going 5-6, 7-5 and then 3-6 (16-17 overall record) before being fired. His tenure was rocked by allegations of substance abuse on the part of key players and disciplinary problems throughtout the squad. Co-captains Jeff Smoker and DuJuan Moss both were suspended from the team for disciplanary reasons.
After a 49-3 whipping at the hands of crosstown rival Michigan, new athletic director Ron Mason elected to pull the plug on Williams and hand the team over to interim coach Morris Watts. MSU hired former Louisville head coach John L. Smith to replace Williams.
The former Spartan boss is not without credentials. He has a track record for getting good production out of lesser talent. In his 13 years at MSU he coached seven 1,000-yard rushers including Lorenzo White, Blake Ezor and others.
It is unknown whether coach Marty Mornhiweg will continue to call plays as the offensive coordinator or if he will hand the duties to highly qualified Sherman Lewis, another former Spartan. Many close to the Lions situation feel Lewis will either be named wide receivers coach or offensive coordinator.