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Jonathan Smith introduced as MSU football head coach at press conference

November 28, 2023
MSU Head Football Coach Jonathan Smith takes questions from the press at the press conference at the Breslin Center on Nov. 28, 2023.
MSU Head Football Coach Jonathan Smith takes questions from the press at the press conference at the Breslin Center on Nov. 28, 2023.

The last few days have marked the start of a new era for the Michigan State football team with the introduction of newly appointed head coach Jonathan Smith at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Just a day after the conclusion of the 2023 season for the Spartans, the program hired Smith as the 26th head coach. Smith coached Oregon State to an 8-4 record this past year and recorded a 34-35 overall record with the Beavers through six seasons.

Athletic director Alan Haller announced Tuesday that Smith signed a seven-year contract starting at $7.25 million per year.

“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. And that’s why I go back to this fit.”

Smith faced with future challenges. He had built up Oregon State’s reputation in a Power Five conference and was still under contract with the team through 2029 with $31.2 million left. 

At this stage in Smith’s career, working his way up the coaching tree was already proven to be completed. He had a job in Corvallis that was his, but when Smith was approached by MSU for the vacant position, he knew the opportunity was right. 

"Again the family piece, the community network, a passionate fanbase, the opportunity to win, the resources to win, the community that is invested to win," Smith said. "I think all of that was here, and so, that was brewing in my mind."

On Tuesday, Haller said it was a difficult search for the head coaching job and he wanted to get it done as soon as he could despite the season finishing up. 

When beginning the search, Haller was looking at around 12 to 15 candidates that fit his criteria. Smith seemed to always be in the mix, and Haller kept him on his radar, though there was fear that the deal would face some trouble.

“I was nervous a couple weeks ago because there were jobs that were talking about being open, and there was jobs that were open that were looking at him (Smith),” Haller said. “I had to step up my pursuit.”

Haller began to realize Smith was increasingly becoming a better fit for the position and conducted an initial two-hour phone interview with Smith. Everything after the call was just getting to know who Smith was beyond a coach, confirming Haller's hire.

Hiring a new coach is incredibly important for Michigan State's program. Coming off a 4-8 season and the second-straight year with a losing record, fans are demanding a rebound to get the team back to a winning record.

The hire is also vital for Haller in a similar way. Haller knows the pressure that comes with working in a historic program that had success in the past, and he wants nothing more than to make the right decision for the university and its fans.

“I’ve thought about this every single minute of every single day,” Haller said. “This is a very important hire. A couple things: one, I used to walk up the stairs. My routine was before the game, I’d be on the field for the first quarter. Second quarter I start to walk up the stairs to get to the press box, and I would see the same group of fans — the look on their faces sometimes, I kept in the search. I wanted to change that.”

Haller said Tuesday that this will be his last football head coaching hire that he makes as the athletic director at MSU for reasons to be determined. There isn’t any guarantee, Haller said, but it will be his final one.

There is still lots of uncertainty entering the offseason. Multiple players on the roster have entered the transfer portal, including the three scholarship quarterbacks: redshirt junior quarterback Noah Kim, redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser and freshman quarterback Sam Leavitt

There will be more changes as the offseason progresses, but solidifying a head coach that is prepared to win is one step forward.

“I think a lot of us in this room understand this is going to take some work, and I am definitely excited and up for the challenge and opportunity that’s in progress," Smith said.

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