Top Candidates: Michigan State


Michigan State delivered a notice to Mel Tucker this afternoon with the intent to terminate, meaning Michigan State will be looking for a new head coach this winter. Harlon Barnett is the current interim head coach and will get a trial run to see if he can be the guy. Michigan State is certain to conduct a nationwide search, similar to how they found Tucker. The Big Ten will have new money to play with, which means Michigan State will be able to back the truck for their next coach. Let’s take a look at who we think will be candidates for the opening at Michigan State:

James Franklin (Penn State Head Coach) – I’m just kidding! People take the internet too seriously. Now to the real candidates.

Jason Candle (Toledo Head Coach) – Jason Candle might be the perfect candidate for Michigan State. He is just 43 years old with eight years of experience as a head coach. He has helped Toledo finish at least .500 in every season. Candle helped Toledo win the MAC in 2017 and again in 2022. The Rockets are currently the favorites to repeat as conference champions. Toledo was a last-second field goal away from starting the season 3-0. Candle is a safe hire since he is coming from the MAC. Coaches from the MAC who are sought after tend to be snatched up within the first three or four years, while Candle is in his eighth season. Candle’s teams tend to be strong offensively, finishing in the top 30 in points scored per game in five of the past seven seasons. The Miami Hurricanes were targeting Candle to be their offensive coordinator, so he may be looking to make a move to a Power Five program.

Pat Narduzzi (Pitt Head Coach) – Pat Narduzzi is a polarizing coach. Few fans are indifferent about him; you either love him or hate him, but everyone has an opinion on him. Narduzzi is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Pitt Panthers. He will be linked to the opening because he served as the Michigan State defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2014, helping create Michigan State’s “No Fly Zone,” the nickname given to their secondary. Pitt is currently experiencing a down season, sitting at 1-2. However, one needs to look at his recent seasons to appreciate Narduzzi’s success. He guided the Panthers to 20 wins between 2021 and 2022, including an ACC Championship. Narduzzi currently earns just under $6 million per season. While Michigan State may not want to engage in a bidding war, they certainly have the funds to offer Narduzzi a raise.

Brian Hartline (Ohio State Offensive Coordinator) – Brian Hartline is likely to be a name that comes up for many coaching vacancies. He has proven himself as a strong recruiter for Ohio State and one of the best position coaches in the country. Notably, some of the best coaches in recent memory, such as Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney, were wide receiver coaches who made the jump to head coach. The question is whether Michigan State will take a risk on a coordinator who has been in coaching only since 2017. Historically, Michigan State has not often given assistant coaches their first head coaching job since Bobby Williams was hired in 2000. Williams, who was the running back coach for Michigan State, took over after Nick Saban left for LSU. Hartline will also need to decide if he wants to pursue a head coaching role at the college level. Some analysts have speculated that he will eventually become a head coach in the NFL and may consider making the leap to the professional ranks in the coming years.

Mike Elko (Duke Head Coach) – Mike Elko has made fans forget that Duke is not traditionally a football powerhouse. In his first season, Duke won nine games under his leadership. He kicked off the second season with a victory over Clemson on national television. Elko is a defensive-minded coach with over 10 years of experience as a defensive coordinator before getting the chance to run his own program. Duke had a tough season, finishing 3-9 in David Cutcliffe’s final season as head coach. Elko orchestrated a rapid turnaround, with the team’s four losses coming by a combined 16 points, three of which were on the road. Prior to the start of the season, Elko signed a contract extension through 2029, which could make it financially challenging to lure him away from Tobacco Road. Michigan State would be wise to reach out to Elko and have a conversation.

Mike Tressel (Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator) – Mike Tressel is unlikely to emerge as a top candidate for the Michigan State job. Tressel spent six seasons at Michigan State from 2015 through 2020, coaching under Tucker for just one season, which may deter the Spartans. He comes from a strong lineage of coaches, including being the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. Mike Tressel followed Luke Fickell from Cincinnati to Wisconsin this past offseason. The Bearcats’ defense finished 5th in scoring defense in 2021 and 20th in 2022, despite key departures such as Coby Bryant and Sauce Gardner. Nonetheless, Tressel should be considered a longshot for this position.

Sean Lewis (Colorado Offensive Coordinator) – How many coaches voluntarily leave a head coaching position to become an offensive coordinator? Personally, I can’t think of anyone other than Sean Lewis. Lewis was widely regarded as a successful head coach at Kent State, where he played a pivotal role in building one of the most explosive offenses in the MAC. Last offseason, he made the decision to leave and become the offensive coordinator for Coach Prime at Colorado. His choice is proving to be a wise one as, through the first three weeks, Colorado has emerged as one of the most exciting teams in the country, featuring talents like Sheduer Sanders, Dylan Edwards, Jimmy Horn, and Travis Hunter. At just 37 years old, Lewis already boasts five years of experience as a head coach. He is well-acquainted with the Big Ten and the Midwest, having played for Wisconsin and then coached at Akron, Bowling Green, and Kent State. Coaching for Michigan State would provide him with resources that were not readily available in the MAC.

Ryan Grubb (Washington Offensive Coordinator) – There are always a few candidates who have absolutely no connection but still work their way into the conversation. Ryan Grubb is another young offensive coordinator who is already highly sought after. Alabama wanted Grubb to join them as their offensive coordinator, but he ultimately decided to stay with Washington. Grubb has almost no connection to the state of Michigan, aside from a brief coaching stop at Eastern Michigan. Grubb played a key role in helping the Washington Huskies create one of the best offenses in college football last season. The Huskies’ offense ranked seventh in scoring, first in passing, second in total offense, and 122nd in turnovers allowed. Washington is picking up right where they left off, currently ranking eighth in scoring, first in passing, and second in total offense. Grubb is bound to be a highly sought-after name in the years to come.

Manny Diaz (Penn State Defensive Coordinator) – Manny Diaz is likely to take another head coaching job in the coming years. He possesses the ability to be patient and find the job that he believes will best suit him. Diaz has excelled as the Penn State defensive coordinator in his first season, with Penn State ranking 13th in scoring defense. The team is on pace for another impressive defensive season. Diaz previously spent three seasons at Miami, so he understands the pressure of being a head coach, where he achieved a record of 21-15 across three seasons. His newfound familiarity with the Big Ten will give him an advantage if he chooses to pursue a head coaching position in that conference.


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