(Writer's Note: After wins over Wisconsin, UM on the road, a tougher than expected Illinois and a thrilling comeback against Northwestern in a hallmark "trap" game, I hope that for this season, we can put to rest the SOS moniker.)
This post might contain information familiar to MSU alumni and fans but might be foreign to our Big Ten brethren.
I'm going to point out very specific events which brought MSU to make program altering decisions on November 29 and December 6, 1999. Decisions which would result in the Lost Decadeof MSU Football. Decisions it should be noted that resulted in the hiring of Mark Dantonio, who just might lead MSU back to heights it has experienced previously. Every school of course, can point to certain"butterfly effects" throughout the history of their programs. Change one thing"here" and everything else down the line changes. Michigan State University is not special in this regard. My intent is to show how we got to where we are today andagain why this "rebirth" of MSU football might be different.
After the jump: The Head Coaches
I am going to begin with Biggie Munn.
College football did exist before 1947 to be sure (just ask UM about those "National Titles" from 1901-1904). While MSU (then MAC and MSC) experienced it first real successes under coaches such as Chester Brewster, John Macklin and Charles Bachman, the school did not really begin to achieve national recognition until the end of World War II, the resultant growth of the university from the influx of veterans returning from said conflict, the arrival of Clarence "Biggie" Munn and entry into the Big Ten Conference.
Biggie Munn 1947-1953
Coach Munn won 84% of his games and the National Title in 1952. His squads won 28 consecutive games between October 14, 1950 and October 24, 1953. Coach Munn won the Big Ten and Rose Bowl in his last season at the helm which was also MSU's first in the conference. He stepped down from coaching at the end of the 1953 season becoming Athletic Director while promoting his assistant head coach Duffy Daugherty to Head Coach. Remember this, it is important: He stopped coaching when he was selected to be the school's Athletic Director.
Duffy Daugherty 1954-1972
Duffy led MSU for 19 years which is the longest tenure of any Spartan football coach. He had some misfires, MSU's first last place finish and only season without a conference victory in contested games. His teams did reach glorious heights as well winning National Titles in 1965** and 1966. His record against UM is 10-7-2 including streaks of 6-0-2 and 3-0. He also wins 8 straight against ND. After the selection of 4 Spartans in the Top 10 of the 1967 NFL draft the team's fortunes take a down turn. Duffy's Spartans achieve one winning season in his last six never finishing higher than 3rd in the Big Ten. Duffy's assistant Denny Stolz will take the reigns when he steps down at the end of the 1972 season.
For those of you counting at home from 1950 through 1969 MSU was 13-4-2 against UM.
Denny Stolz 1973-1975
Denny Stolz's tenure at MSU is short, lasting only 3 seasons while winning 59% of his games. Still, his 1974 team beats an undefeated #1 ranked Buckeye team in November. This will be his undoing as
"Fighting" "Punching" Woody Hayes, who can not believe the lowly Spartans beat his juggernaut, shows Phil Fulmer the way and reports MSU to the NCAA for cheating. After a lengthy investigation in which MSU is not allowed to have counsel present at NCAA meetings, the NCAA finds a member of Stolz's staff guilty of secondary infractions. MSU is placed on a three year probation prohibiting any bowl appearances beginning in 1976. At the end of the 1975 season, Stolz, the Athletic Director and an innocent Gus Ganakas (head basketball coach) are purged from the University.
Darryl Rogers 1976-1979
Joe Kearney rides into to town as the new AD hiring Darryl Rogers to be head football coach. He'll also hire Jud Heathcote (and later Ron Mason). Just as quickly he'll ride out in 1979 to become AD at Arizona State (nine months after this he'll leave ASU to become the WAC commissioner, settled, he'll stay there for 14 years). Darryl Rogers short tenure does result in a Big Ten co-championship season in 1978. UM are the co-champs and MSU has a head to head win over UM, but can not play in the Rose Bowl due to the previously mentioned sanctions. Darryl Rogers follows "Moving" Joe Kearney out to ASU after the 1979 season.
Muddy Waters 1980-82
MSU decides to hire Doug Weaver as its next Director of Athletics, fresh off coaching and AD disasters at K-State, Southern Illinois and Georgia Tech. Weaver attempts to sign George Perles to position of
"Dictator for Life" Head Football Coach but Pittsburgh will not release him from his contract. Weaver instead chooses Muddy Waters. No, not the "Father of the Blues". What can we say about "Coach" Muddy Waters? He was an excellent coach at Hillsdale College, a mediocre coach at SVSU, and an awful coach at MSU. Muddy has the worst winning percentage of any MSU coach with more than one season of coaching. Thankfully, the "Muddy Waters Experience" breaks up after the 1982 season. Muddy putters around East Lansing as a beloved member of the community until his death in 2006. The DevilGeorge Perles 1983-1994
In 1983 Weaver gets his man. George Perles, a player and then coach under Duffy, jumps at the chance to coach his alma mater. He is unfortunately under contract to the USFL's Philadelphia stars. Philly sues. MSUsettles. In just his second season at the helm he leads MSU to its first bowl game in nearly 20 years (a loss to Army in the Cherry,
Motor City, Pizza, Little Ceaser'sBowl which begins his love affair withDetroit bowl games). In his fifth season in charge he wins MSU's first Big Ten crown in nine years resulting in the team's first Rose Bowl appearance in 22 years. During this 1987 Big Ten championship season, his team suffers back to back blow out losses to ND and FSU. In 1988/89 rumors circulate that Perles is being considered for head coaching positions in the NFL. MSU restructures his contract to show appreciation for his services. In 1989 Doug Weaver retires unexpectedly. Perles ponders appointment as MSU Imperator AD. Perlesgets into a pissing contest with the Board of Trustees and President John DiBiaggio. The BOT and President DiBiaggio do not think it is a good idea for the head football coach at a Division I-A university to also take on the fulltime job of Athletic Director. MSU offers an either/or proposition which Perles rejects. It is mentioned in the press that the New York Jets are ready to offer Perles a $6 million contract to become their head coach. In early 1990, the BOT votes 5-3 to allow Perles to become the AD and Head Football Coach. Later in 1990 George Perles becomes the first head coach to take the Spartans to 4 straight bowl games as they win a share of the Big Ten title (the last to date for MSU) and head to the Sun Bowl. 1990 is also the last season that MSU winning record with Perles as head football coach. By the middle of 1992 the Perles AD experiment ends and MSU makes history appointing Merrily Dean Baker the first female AD in the Big Ten (2nd ever nationally at a DI school). Perles fiddles while East Lansing burns until the end of the 1994 season when he is removed by new president M. Peter McPherson. The1994 squad which finished at 5-6 is later forced to forfeit all victories which results in an ignominious 0-11 for the history books. With this change the Perles's final record at MSU is 68-67-4***.
Nick Saban 1995-1999
Fondly remembered by no one, Saban stepped into the toxic environment that was MSU athletics in 1995. The son of a coach and former defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick, Saban experiences success at MSU becoming the second MSU coach to
take have squads selected to 4 straight bowl games. MSU never suffered a losing season while he was coach (6-6 twice). In November 1999 LSU contacts Saban about the soon to be available head coaching position (DiNardo is ending his string with a 3-8 season). Interestingly, during his best season at MSU he also suffers back to back blow out losses (UW and Purdue) which end any chance of a Big Ten title. Saban informs the MSU BOT and asks to restructure his contract. The University has seen this script play out at the beginning of the decade and he is rebuffed in no uncertain terms. After bringing MSU to the cusp of its second 10 win season in school history, Nick Saban announces on November 29 that he will be the next head coach at LSU. This decision results in the Lost Decade.
Bobby Williams 1999-2002
The less said the better. No one (except maybe the players) was happy with the decision to hire Bobby Williams. Never really in control or appearing comfortable in the job, Williams is dismissed late in the 2002 season after answering, "I don't know" when asked if he has control of the team.
John L. Smith 2002-2006
After a search lasting 15-20 minutes tops, involving chicken bones andbizarre rituals, it is announced before 2002 bowls that John L. Smith will be the next head coach at MSU. Shocked by the haste in which Smith is selected, Spartans settle in to see how things play out. The MSUfaithful are quickly rewarded with an 2003 Alamo bowl appearance, one in which the mobile QB of the future, Drew Stanton, is injured while playing as a gunner on the special teams. 2003 also saw a home loss to Lousiana Tech where the Spartans were leading in the 4th quarter. 2003 saw the Spartans get out the gate at 7-1 only to finish 8-4. A "Meme" is born. "Cowboy" JLS rides off into the sunset following the 2006 season.
Mark Dantonio 2006-Present
MSU thought this hire through andselected someone with Spartan ties (on Saban's staff and withWilliams for a year), with success as a coordinator (OSU defensive coordinator during their 2002 National Championship season) and as a head coach (Cincinnati). Dantonio stated when hired that this is a destination job for him. Familar with MSU's historical success he vows to awake the sleeping giant that is MSU football. Dantonio will be the third MSU coach and first in 10 years to take the Spartans to 4 straight Bowl games. In 2008, for the first time since 1965 MSU defeats all three Indiana schools in the same season. During the 2008 season, MSU owns all four of its rivalry trophys for the first time since 1999. (PSU will take back the Land Grant trophy in 2008). MSU's record under Dantonio's tenure against UM is 3-1, ND 3-1, PSU 1-2, OSU 0-2. The real difference I believe between Nick Saban and Mark Dantonio is that Dantonio wants to be here and is interested in establishing a legacy (ala Izzo). MSU's performance this season alone should prove that Dantonio is the right coach for MSU.
What it all means
For the the first time in nearly 40 years there is stability in the Athletic Department, the Board of Trustees (even if Perles got himself elected there) and the President's office simultaneously. These three units are working together to advance the University's mission, reputation and brand. The focus on using the University's resources and assets to achieve its full potential, the move from being proactive instead of reactive is, quite frankly, unprecedented in my lifetime. MSU has spent the last 40 years chasing its tail, jousting at windmills, pick a cliche of your own. I believe those days are firmly in the past.
* I'm away from my
handy beloved Spartan Sports Encyclopedia so I'm doing this mostly from memory with another assist from College Football Data Warehouse. General "eras" are correct, specific dates if any may not be.
** The University of Alabama counts 1965 as one of their 51 National Championship seasons.
*** The wreckage didn't end with Perles's exit. In 1994 as a result of increased tensions between the University, the Athletic Department, the President and coach Perles, the AD position at MSU is split between Baker and Clarence Underwood. DiBiaggio had resigned in 1992, many think due to the Perles debacle. The next President, Gordon Guyer lasted just about a year. Baker was gone by 1995. MSU would have four AD's between 1990-1999.