Michigan State hires Jonathan Smith away from Oregon State, hoping he turns around another program
The 44-year-old Smith was 34-35 over six seasons at Oregon State, including an 8-4 mark this year as the program earned at least eight wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than a decade.
“Jonathan has a proven track record of success, building the Oregon State program from the ground up by implementing a plan resulting in sustained historic success for the Beavers,” Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller said.
As a quarterback, Smith led the Beavers to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. The Pasadena, California, native returned as head coach in late 2017, inheriting a team that was 1-11.
“When I first arrived as a freshman college student, I had no idea the opportunities and relationships this community would provide for me and my family,” Smith posted on social media. “The collective impact you have made makes it impossible for me to thank everyone individually, but I am forever grateful.”
Previously, he was Washington’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He also coached quarterbacks at Boise State, Montana and Idaho after starting his coaching career as an Oregon State graduate assistant in 2002.
Smith had six years remaining on his contract, worth $31.2 million through 2029, with a $3 million buyout.
Tucker was suspended in early September and fired later in the month for acknowledging he had phone sex with a vendor who was paid to speak with his team about how to prevent sexual abuse and misbehavior.
Interim coach Harlon Barnett was 2-8 in place of Tucker.
Smith faces a big challenge, taking over a team that was routed in each of its four games against highly ranked opponents and with the Big Ten expanding next season to add some powerful programs.
The Spartans lost 41-7 to Washington, 49-0 to Michigan, 38-3 to Wisconsin and closed a miserable season with a 42-0 setback to Penn State.
Michigan State, though, has proven it can compete in college football.
Tucker won 11 games, including a New Year’s Six bowl, in 2021 when the Spartans were ranked as high as No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 5 in the AP Top 25.
Mark Dantonio won 36 games and two Big Ten titles in a three-year run that started a decade ago. Nick Saban turned the Spartans into a winner in 1999 before leaving for LSU.
Smith, meanwhile, is leaving a football program with an uncertain future due to departures from the Pac-12.
“His decision follows weeks of conversations during which he expressed his support for Oregon State’s short- and long-term plans and appreciation for the efforts Oregon State made to provide him with a new contract and guaranteed compensation,” athletic director Scott Barnes said.
Oregon State and Washington State are the lone remaining teams in the Pac-12 after the other 10 teams bolted in realignment. Together the Beavers and Cougars have filed a lawsuit to retain the conference’s assets.
Smith has experience taking over a team in turmoil.
He was hired after the 2017 season in which Gary Andersen abruptly parted ways with the school after a 1-5 start and with seven wins in 2 1/2 years. Interim coach Cory Hall was winless in six games that year.
The Smith-led Beavers won a total of nine games in his first three years before going 7-6 in 2021. He won 10 games last year and shared Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors.
Smith closed his coaching career at Oregon State with a 31-7 loss to rival and sixth-ranked Oregon.
“On the field, his teams are tough and physical, yet innovative,” Haller said. “This year, Oregon State has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, ranking among the nation’s leaders in both rushing offense and rushing defense.
“He’s shown not only the ability to recruit talented student-athletes who fit his system, but also to develop and maximize players once they’re in the program. At his core, he’s a quarterbacks coach, and throughout his career he’s been instrumental in the development of young quarterbacks, which is essential in today’s college football landscape.”