Jonathan Smith preparing to build a new life, culture with Michigan State football

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Jason Laplow

EAST LANSING – At the beginning of a long, imperative head coaching search for Michigan State, names circulated day in and day out. The fan base, student-athletes, and other leaders have never been more desperate to find the right person for the job.

With the head-coaching position opening up on Sept. 27, just under a month into the 2023 campaign, the process to find the new leader of this football team took some time. 

But, just one day after Michigan State football wrapped up their season, MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller found his guy. 

“A man of character. Someone who develops authentic relationships and cares about their players on and off the field. Someone who would be committed to building something special. Recruiting student-athletes and developing them as players and people. Someone who engages the community. A coach with a proven track record,” Haller said, describing the traits he and three stakeholder groups were looking for in a new coach.

After the process ran its due diligence, and Haller interviewed 12 different coaches, there was one final name left on their list.

Jonathan Smith. 

So, Smith entered his introductory press conference, family by his side, through a tunnel formed by the Spartan band and cheerleaders, with everyone else in the room standing and applauding the new head honcho of Spartan football. 

On a cold, bitter winter day, Smith and his family were given a warm welcome into East Lansing. 

“I’ve got confidence in this move,” Smith said assuredly. “I cannot overstate how important and confident I think we are.” 

With a look of realization and confidence, he stopped himself. 

“I shouldn’t say think. We are confident.” 

Smith comes to East Lansing with a long history of coaching football, with stints in offensive coaching positions at Idaho, Montana, Boise State, and Washington, before becoming the head coach of Oregon State in 2018. 

And now, in 2023, he moves out to the midwest, where he will try to resurrect a program that has seen national success as recently as 2015 with a College Football Playoff berth but has been through turmoil very recently. 

“I think a clear and concise message of how and why we’re going to do things is really important from the get-go,” Smith said.

A large part of building a program from the ground up is creating a culture that players and fans can buy into. When asked what messages he wanted to bring to the team, Smith had a quick response. 

“Low ego, high output. Selfless. I think football is the ultimate team game.”

As the future of MSU football looks as bright as the smile on Smith’s face at the podium with his family, a lot of work still needs to be done. But as legendary Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio explained, Michigan State got the right guy for the job. 

“I think [MSU is] getting a great coach that’s got experience at the highest level in the Pac-12 and has proven that he can win..and develop not only people but character on and off the field,” Dantonio said. 

Not only does Dantonio feel great about Smith leading the Spartans, but Smith is just as excited to work alongside and learn from one of the most respected football minds of the millennium. 

“Definitely plan on leaning on him,” Smith said. “He did it at the highest level, but it’s the idea of sustainability and developing [success]. I think there are some core principles of developing and recruiting that can last a lifetime and I plan on doing it.”

Smith takes the reins right at the dawn of the MSU offseason, and it also comes with many players entering the portal. It is no secret that it will be challenging for Smith from the get-go, but Smith looks forward to the challenge and building relationships in the community with his family. 

“These decisions are not easy,” Smith said. “I want to chase championships at the highest level, but at the same time create an atmosphere for my family to be special.”

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