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MSU football season concludes with head coaching search on the horizon; Harlon Barnett has other plans

November 25, 2023
<p>Michigan State players walking onto the field before the game against Penn State at Ford Field on Nov. 24, 2023.</p>

Michigan State players walking onto the field before the game against Penn State at Ford Field on Nov. 24, 2023.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

In the last game of the 2023 season, the Michigan State Football team was defeated in dominating fashion once more in a 42-0 loss to No. 11 ranked Penn State at Ford Field.

The loss caps off an unpredictable and rather disappointing season for the Spartans, as there were expectations to reclaim a winning record heading into the year. Now for the second straight time, MSU will fail to reach bowl eligibility, and their season will end in the final week of the regular season.

Interim head coach Harlon Barnett finished his tenure as a head coach with a 2-8 record following the firing of Mel Tucker earlier in the season. Barnett was always viewed as a temporary replacement for the rest of the year by many, but there are a lot of questions in need of answers heading into the offseason.

There has been visible circulation of rumors regarding a new coach in East Lansing heading into 2024. Perhaps the most popular name gaining traction is current Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith. Smith has been reported as the top target for the vacancy, and a deal can expect to progress further as soon as this weekend, according to Nicole Auerbach of NBC Sports.

"No decisions have been made," Smith said in his postgamae press conference after a loss to No. 6 ranked Oregon. 

Smith also noted that there is a lot of upcoming uncertainty with the Pac 12 conference reducing to just two teams in the 2024 season. Smith says he asked his players to lock in for the four months of the season despite the outside noise, and he will go from there.

Though a new beginning seems to be on horizon for the program, Barnett may have other plans. 

“I’ll be looking in the mirror,” Barnett said in response to being asked about what he would say about Michigan State as a university to the next head coach.

Barnett also added in his post-game press conference that the coaching search is being taken “day-by-day” and name dropped himself in third person when saying they are not sure who the proper candidate will be just yet.

It is clear Barnett wants to remain the head coach of Michigan State, but it is hard to determine what is best for the team just days after the last game of the season.

“Coach Barnett wants to be the head coach here,” sixth year senior linebacker Aaron Brule said. “He’d never stop being honest about anything. I think he has a great opportunity. He’s definitely a fighter. He’s a Spartan dog. So I mean even if he didn’t want to be here, I’m sure he wanted the program to look good.”

There have been clear mistakes under Barnett’s era that have stuck out. In four games against teams ranked in the top 25 in the AP Poll, the Spartans were outscored 170-10. MSU also managed to blow multiple winnable games in the second half, including a collapse on the road at Minnesota and a 24-6 lead to Rutgers. 

The finish to the season doesn’t excite the Spartan faithful, but the team has fought adversity throughout the entirety of 2023. With their backs against the wall, Michigan State showed up to each game with the same mentality, believing they would win no matter the result on the field.

In order to get back to where the program once was though, a new coaching hire would need to be a significant one to take the step back in the right direction. 

The blame can easily be put on the coaching staff for the failure to win games, but the effort and mentality from the players will be just as important in order to contribute to a winning product next season.

“I want to see guys have a hunger to not let this happen again,” redshirt sophomore running back Nate Carter said. “Going into next year, I want to see guys who are going to come in and are going to work. This stings, what happened this year. But we need to remember this and we need to allow this to shape us for what we want to do next year.”

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