Michigan State football hires Jonathan Smith as head coach

Michigan State hired Jonathan Smith away from Oregon State to be its head coach, the Spartans announced Saturday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Smith has been the coach at Oregon State, his alma mater, since 2018 and played quarterback for the Beavers from 1998 until 2001.
  • The 44-year-old made stops as an offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach at Idaho, Montana, Boise State and Washington before returning to Corvallis, Ore., for his first head-coaching gig. Smith was the Pac-12 co-coach of the year in 2022 with Washington’s Kalen DeBoer and has a 34-35 record over six seasons.
  • Michigan State fired former coach Mel Tucker for cause in September amid an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the coach.
  • Both Michigan State and Oregon State wrapped up regular-season play Friday. The Spartans (4-8) lost to Penn State 42-0, while the Beavers (8-4) fell to rival Oregon 31-7.

How we got here

Smith’s name emerged earlier this week as one of the top candidates for the Michigan State opening. In response, Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes said in a statement his priority was to provide Smith with a “new contract and guaranteed compensation” to keep him with the Beavers moving forward.

In a conversation with The Athletic, Barnes reiterated that commitment.

“Look, it starts with trust and transparency and our conversations have been going on for weeks and weeks about our plan forward,” Barnes told The Athletic on Wednesday. “He’s embraced our plan forward and our commitment to him, his assistants and the football program. He is well aware of our commitment to him, his assistants and his football program. That’s all we can do.”

How Smith fits at Michigan State

This is a great hire and fit for Michigan State. The Spartans wanted a program-builder who could return Michigan State to its blue-collar ethos, and Smith fits that mold perfectly. He’s won in hard places to win, and he’s very unassuming.

I’ve been told he’d been on MSU’s radar since the search began, and that makes perfect sense from the school’s side. For Smith, it’s obviously difficult to leave your alma mater — especially in a time of great uncertainty — but this is a clear step up into one of the two leagues with the greatest financial stability. — Nicole Auerbach, college football senior writer

How good is the MSU job?

It’s the second-best open job right now behind Texas A&M, and it might be the second-best job in the cycle when it’s all said and done. The Spartans have reached four BCS/NY6/CFP games since 2013 and won two Big Ten titles in that span. The ceiling for this program is high even with the Big Ten adding four Pac-12 schools next year.

But the Spartans are also coming off consecutive seasons without bowl appearances for the first time since 2005 and 2006. It’ll take some time to rebuild. The roster has some pieces but a lot of holes. Smith will first have to keep who he wants from entering the transfer portal when it opens again for MSU players on Dec. 4.

There are three quarterback options. Noah Kim started most of the season with mixed results. Redshirt freshman Katin Houser started the second half of the season and Oregon-native true freshman Sam Leavitt showed some bright spots in four games. Houser and Leavitt were four-star recruits.

Starting defensive tackle Simeon Barrow Jr. entered the portal in October but withdrew. He’ll be a key defensive player to hold onto. — Chris Vannini, college football senior writer

Required reading

(Photo: Tom Hauck / Getty Images)

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