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Saturday, October 07, 2006

It's (Not So) Great At State

The history of head football coaches at Michigan State over the past thirty years mirrors that of the team: inconsistent, often incompetent, occasionally odd, and rarely successful. To paraphrase my favorite Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit, these men are a big reason why Michigan State is Michigan State.

Below is a rundown of the men who have found that it is indeed not easy being green.

Darryl Rogers (1976-79): A former head coach at Fresno State and San Jose State, Rogers amassed a 24-18-2 record in East Lansing. He defeated Michigan only once in four tries, a 24-15 shocker of the fifth-ranked Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 1978. Earlier that year, Rogers uttered what became his most famous words, terming Michigan faithful as "those arrogant asses in Ann Arbor."

An insufferable prick in his own right, Rogers bolted MSU for Arizona State, where he coached for four years before becoming the head coach of the Detroit Lions. Rogers struggled with the pathetic Lions, leading him to ask reporters in 1984, "What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?" He soon found out: win only 18 of 58 games.

Unlike almost every other coach in Lions history, Rogers was able to get another head coaching job, though he had to go to Canada to find it, finishing his career with a 9-9 record as coach of the 1991 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Frank "Muddy" Waters (1980-82): I liked Muddy, as I described in a recent post on this blog following his death in September. As a young coach at Hillsdale College, Waters struck a blow for racial equality by refusing a bid to the Tangerine Bowl because local officals would not allow his five black palyers to participate in the game. As an old coach at MSU, Muddy compiled a 10-23 record, including an 0-3 mark vs. the Wolverines.

George Perles (1983-94): Seen in the link at left on the cover of his (thankfully) only porno movie, Perles was a poor man's Barry Alvarez. Alright, Perles was a homeless man's Barry Alvarez--a little uglier, a lot fatter, and not nearly as successful.

A former assistant with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steeler teams of the 70s, Perles mixed a rugged running attack and hard-nosed defense to bring relative stability and some victories to what had been a lagging program. Perles' tenure was highlighted by a 20-17 win over USC in the 1988 Rose Bowl.

Despite his 68-67-4 record at State (and 4-8 record vs. Michigan) Perles was able to attract two offers to coach in the NFL, rejecting the Green Bay Packers in 1988 in favor of a long-term deal to stay in East Lansing and turning down the New York Jets in 1989 so that he could add the role of athletic director to his duties. After his dismissal by Sparty, Perles briefly sued the university for breach of contract and he is currently running as a Democrat for a spot on MSU's Board of Trustees.

Nick Saban (1995-99): An intense man who makes most Type A head coaches seem like Otto from "The Simpsons", Saban took over a Sparty squad that suffered an NCAA spanking for violations that took place under the reign of George Perles. In 1995, he became the first Sparty head coach to defeat Michigan in his first try (28-25 in East Lansing) and, after three consecutive losses to UM, again beat the Wolverines in '99.

Reportedly frustrated by administrative meddling and Sparty's second class status to Michigan -- and enticed by the truckloads of cash thrust at him by Louisiana State -- Saban left MSU following the 1999 regular season. His MSU record of 35-24-1 represented the best winning percentage for a Sparty coach since Duffy Daugherty's 19-year era that stretched from the 50s to the early 70s.

At LSU, Saban shared a national title in 2004 before leaving the Bayou to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Bobby Williams (1999-2002): The running backs coach under Saban, Williams took over for the LSU-bound coach prior to Sparty's 2000 Citrus Bowl game against Florida. When Paul Edinger connected on a last-second, game winning field goal to defeat the favored Gators, Williams' interim label was shed and his ticket was punched to become the new Sparty leader.

After a 5-6 season in 2000 and a 7-5 campaign in 2001 (featuring a 26-24 win over Michigan in the controversial "Spartan Bob" clock game), the wheels came off of Williams' tenure at State in 2002. A 3-5 start, a series of off-field disciplinary incidents, and a humiliating 49-3 loss in Ann Arbor led to his dismissal. Asked following that Michigan loss if Williams had lost control of his team, the coach answered, "I don't know."Athletic Director Ron Mason did, and fired Williams two days later.

Over the past few years Williams has been hired and fired as an assistant coach by the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins. He recently co-authored a book (with his lawyer) with the exhausting title, "Innocence in the Red Zone: The Adversity and Opportunity of Bobby Williams: the Story of an African-American Coach in Big Time College Football."

John L. Smith (2003-About 8:00 PM Eastern, 10-7-06) Indications that Smith would be an embarassment to MSU were evident when rumors that he the would become the new Sparty head coach began to swirl during halftime of the 2002 GMAC Bowl, where John L. was patrolling the sidelines for Louisville (the Cards lost to Marshall 38-15.) Since coming to the banks of the Red Cedar, Smith is 16-14 overall, with an 0-3 mark against Michigan.

And there was that blown 16-point fourth quarter lead versus Notre Dame...followed by a home loss to an Illinois team that hadn't won a Big Ten game since 2004. At least he's entertaining.


Brad said...

I'm hoping against hope that John L. can keep his job (although not at our expense obviously). He's just too entertaining to lose him from the conference. He's like the class clown who always gets D's but keeps everyone else sane with his antics.

Scott said...

I thought I heard that a reporter asked John L the 'have you lost control of this team' question and he also answered 'I don't know' after the Illinois game.

tick, tick, tick...

John L. Smith said...

MSU wins outright today. Then I am going to slap Lloyd Christmas (Henne) WITH MY FLESH GAVEL.

Anonymous said...