EAST LANSING, Mich. (FOX 2) - A new era has dawned in East Lansing as Michigan State football introduced Jonathan Smith as the team's new head coach.
Smith was hired away from his Alma mater, Oregon State, to recover the Spartans football team. The 44-year-old Smith was 34-35 over six seasons at Oregon State, including an 8-4 mark this year that helped the program earn at least eight wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than a decade.
"Let me tell you a little bit about why I am so excited about Michigan State. I think again, we go back to the fit. We want to make a physical brand of football on both sides of the ball," Smith said. "At the same time, it will lead to an innovative offense in regards to, we're going to take a chance once in a while. (We're going to) make it physical and create explosive plays. Make it hard on the defense not just with the physical (aspect) but with schematics."
Smith comes to East Lansing with an offensive background. As a quarterback, the Pasadena, California, native led the Beavers to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. Smith returned as head coach in late 2017, inheriting a team that was 1-11. Previously, he was Washington’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Smith spoke of an offensive system that will be quarterback-centric. One day earlier both Katin Houser and Sam Leavitt each announced they were entering the transfer portal leaving questions at the position.
"I think we are going to run a style of play that the quarterback can have some real success," he said. "I think being the starting quarterback at MSU is an unbelievable opportunity. And that opportunity is there for whoever is in our locker room."
He said learning the roster is his first priority - and it goes beyond just game film.
"Priority No. 1 is to learn the roster, not just what they look like on tape, but what their story is," he said. "You can coach these guys as hard as you care about these guys - and then they know that. I think building trust from the get-go is vitally important.
"Buy-in and belief, that's just not free."
One of the media members asked Smith about his lack of ties to the Midwest, and specifically Michigan. Smith said that he's learning every day and speaking with former players and coaches - including a long conversation with former football coach Mark Dantonio last night.
And when it comes to a lack of regional connections, questions were also raised about how much of his staff will come with him from the Beavers versus hires with MSU or Midwest connections. Smith said seven of his 10 position coaches stayed on his staff the entire six years he was head coach at Oregon State.
"The intention is to build a staff with great men that are great teachers that are elite people that will invest into the lives of the players yes there is a crew that has been with me for a long time so yes they will be a part of that," he said. "The intention also coming over, it's not an the elephant in the room, I have a lack of deep ties in the Midwest.
"I cannot wait to get engaged into the high school coaches in Michigan At the same time we'll have a staff that reflects some of that (Midwest) background and it will be an intention, on this staff. We will take some time to put this together."
Smith did not speak much about rivalries, just that he embraces them.
"I think the fit is good here because there is an in-state rivalry and I appreciate in-state rivalries," he said. "I think those things are meaningful. It's a great thing."
Smith had six years remaining on his contract, worth $31.2 million through 2029, with a $3 million buyout.
He faces another 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.
Smith has experience rebuilding a program from the ashes, however. At Oregon State he took over a program that was 12-36 in four seasons before he arrived. By his fourth season his team went 7-6 before jumping to 10-3 in 2022 and 8-4 this season.
"I got there six years ago, the place was not having a ton of success," he said. "It had some turmoil and some different things going on, And I was excited diving into it, learning the players, changing the culture, creating a space where people could do their best work and we dove into it. (We made) a lot of great memories, connections, recruiting, I put a staff together that worked for six years straight."
Former coach Mel Tucker was terminated from his role earlier this fall 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.
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.
"Not to sugarcoat recruiting is vitally important," Smith said. "I've got confidence in this move. I cannot overstate how important and confident in this thing. It is going to take some work, and I am definitely excited, and I'm up for the challenge and opportunity. I am fired up to get going, let's do this thing. Go green."