Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Watts to become interim coach

November 5, 2002
Former MSU head football coach Bobby Williams paces the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the Iowa game. MSU lost 44-7.

In the midst of a season full of disappointment, suspensions and substance abuse, Athletics Director Ron Mason announced Monday the firing of head coach Bobby Williams.

“I’ve terminated Bobby Williams as our head football coach, effective immediately,” Mason said at a press conference following Monday’s practice.

The Spartans’ 23rd head coach was notified of the decision only moments before the press conference and didn’t speak to the media.

Since taking over the football team at the 2000 Citrus Bowl, Williams is 16-17 at the helm of the MSU football team. He is the first Spartan football coach to be fired since George Perles was terminated Nov. 8, 1994. But Perles, who had two games remaining on the schedule, was allowed to finish the season as the head coach.

“I think it was unfair,” senior left tackle Ulish Booker said. “They could’ve let him finish the season. I think it was embarrassing.”

Offensive coordinator Morris Watts will assume the position of interim head coach for the remaining three games of the season. Watts has 42 years of coaching experience and is in his 12th season with MSU.

“I didn’t really expect this today when I went to practice,” said Watts, still wearing his practice jumpsuit. “I was torn between my loyalties for Bobby and my loyalties for Michigan State when they asked me if I would take over the interim head coaching job.

“I understand the nature of this business. I know that all of us as coaches are really judged on one thing, and that’s wins and losses. If you don’t have enough of the Ws you quickly get jailed.”

Watts said he hopes he can help the Spartans (3-6 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) finish strong. Watts didn’t field questions after his brief statement, stating he was emotionally unprepared. Watts will address the media today at a weekly press conference.

Mason said Watts will not become MSU’s 24th head coach. But he declined to comment on the university’s search for a new head coach or provide any sort of timetable. He also said the terms of Williams’ buyout are not decided.

MSU has struggled this season both on and off the field. In the preseason, MSU was expected to contend for its first Big Ten title since 1990. But the Spartans stumbled from the beginning and have lost two of their four co-captains (junior quarterback Jeff Smoker was indefinitely suspended for violating team rules on Oct. 24 and senior tailback Dawan Moss was dismissed Sunday following his arrest by Lansing police on charges that include a felony).

After the Spartans’ 49-3 loss to Michigan on Saturday, Williams was asked if he felt he had lost control of the team. Mason said no single incident was responsible for his decision. But he said Williams’ answer regarding control was a defining moment.

“He said he wasn’t sure,” said Mason, who is serving his first year as athletics director. “At that point I really felt if he wasn’t sure, who was?

“I promised decisive leadership, and I assured the administration that I’d make decisions that I thought were in the best interests of the athletics department and the entire university. I knew some of them would be difficult, but I just didn’t expect one this early.”

MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said President M. Peter McPherson fully supports Mason’s decision.

“As I’ve said many times, this is one fully empowered AD,” Denbow said. “Once he determined it was inevitable, he acted. The president supports this kind of management.”

Perles, who hired Williams in 1990, said he left a message on his former assistant’s answering machine expressing his condolences.

“I know how he feels,” he said. “I feel for him and his family.

“But he’ll land another job. He’s got a lot of ability for a young man.”

Eric McKinney can be reached at mckinn54@msu.edu.

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