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Smith keeps players on alert with coaching style

April 8, 2003

MSU football head coach John L. Smith has his players on their toes this spring.

From his casual stride around the Duffy Daugherty Football Building and his approachable, personable demeanor, it wouldn't be expected that Smith is forcing his players to keep one eye open for him at all times.

"Some of the time, you think he's around," sophomore wide receiver Kyle Brown said, shifting his eyes for emphasis. "And he's not."

Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Stanton agreed.

"You have to be alert when you're around him," Stanton said.

"He's kind of impromptu with everything he does."

From a playful - but resounding - slap "hello" on a player's back to threatening to change practice jerseys to a new shade of pink, Smith is as mischievous as he is determined to swing MSU's football program in the right direction.

Starting with player enthusiasm.

"How's the finger, sweetheart?" Smith said joking around with Stanton on Saturday after practice. The blushed smile on Stanton's face was more amused than embarrassed. To the players, Smith is becoming equal parts friendly, offbeat uncle and respected coach.

"It's a fun place to work every day," Stanton said.

The change could be the result of a revamped coaching staff. There are seven new coaches on the Spartan staff, five of them assistants under Smith at Louisville last season. Five MSU assistants under former coach Bobby Williams were retained.

The atmosphere might be lighter in practice this spring, but intensity and focus are still top priority, Smith said.

"We're trying to eliminate mental mistakes," Smith said. "I'm quite encouraged by our mental outlook."

Players are encouraged as well. The jester's hat adorning Smith's football mind is keeping players both aggressive and loose so far.

"The coaches make it a fun atmosphere," Brown said.

"But we've got to be competitive on the other side."

Whether the competitiveness will pan out or not, remains to be seen this fall.

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