For the second consecutive season, MSU collapsed down the stretch, this time losing five of its last six to rob the long suffering MSU seniors from going out as winners or appearing in a bowl game.
As usual MSU can lay the loss at the feet of its special teams and turnovers. MSU quarterback Drew Stanton, who revealed he had been nursing a thumb injury for much of the last five weeks of the season, threw four interceptions, including two in the redzone killing any chance that MSU had for a comeback.
Going forward, if MSU is going to regroup and make a run in 2006, it has to do a better job of expanding its recruiting base, filling the holes in its roster and do a better job of game planning and making adjustments during games.
MSU's coaching staff, which was hit hard by defections during the middle of recruiting season, cannot come back intact and Smith must know this. The defense put up little resistance against Big Ten doormats while the offense self-destructed going down the stretch.
Here's a list of five things that must happen during the offseason if MSU is going to be a contender in 2006.
MSU's coaching staff has to start landing some top flight recruits. This weekend, MSU hosted nine players who could fit in and give them some instant help. Neli A'asa, a tackle prospect from Big Rapids, MI and John Maddox, a big physical receiver prospect from Philadelphia are guys who could step in immediately and contribute.
Others like Vontae Davis, a safety from Washington D.C. and Matt Wright, a linebacker from Hampton, VA could bolster MSU's depth for 2006. They will have to go the junior college route again, but in year four of Smith's six-year contract, it's time to at least have a foundation in place. Smith's coaches need to hit the ground running and start getting commitments -without cheating, pronto.
4. Fix the special teams.
Smith made a reputation as a special teams guru, but this year his special teams looked like a scary movie. Blocked kicks and punts, scholarship kickers who can't make field goals and the spectre of a gong show audition to find freshman walk-on Matt Haughey, who didn't fare much better than John Goss or Kyle Mayer.
Smith might consider turning the unit over to a fiery go-getter who'll recruit and coach special teams like Baylor's Mark Nelson, former San Jose coordinator Keith Allen or Philadelphia Eagles special teams coach John Harbaugh. All would have to be given a coordinator's title, more responsibility and pay, but when you lose three games directly to special teams, it's time for drastic action.
3. Find a kicker.
How can a team that had a virtual who's who of kickers from Dirk Kryt to Hans Nielsen to Morten Andersen to Ralf Mojsiejenko to Dave Rayner now not have even one player who can make a field goal of any length? Whether ot not Smith hires a special teams coordinator or not, he must find a kicker who can make field goals under pressure. The best way to go about it is to go the JC route. Chris Dupree (4 FGs, 54-0f-60 PATs) of Coffeyville, Steve Ivanisevic (16 FGs, 16-0f-17 PATs) of Joliet and Joe Paletta (13 FGs, 43 yards long) of Butler are three of the top JC kickers in the nation. Sign two of 'em.
2. Shake up the coaching staff.
Statisically MSU's defense doesn't look that bad, but just ask them to come up with a critical stop and it doesn't happen. Michigan State has some coaches that don't really come up big in recruiting or in production from their respective units. Mike Cox (linebackers coach) and Chuck Driesbach (secondary) are both candidates to be shaken up or shaken out so are assistant head coach/receivers coach Jim McElwain and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier. MSU needs to establish a recruiting presence in Detroit and Florida to supplement the gains they've made in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
How about a hotshot young recruiter like D.J. McCarthy of Central Florida or Houston Texans defensive assistant Tony Oden, who was a big time recruiter at both Central and Eastern Michigan before heading to the NFL?
Smith can't expect success with the same coaching staff that hasn't gotten it done in three years. Athletic director Ron Mason should demand changes and diversity in the coaching staff. Smith also needs to rebuild relationships among the high school coaches in Detroit, Flint and Saginaw by hosting open houses, seminars and coaching clinics. He should also have an open door policy during the offseason to any coach that wants to visit.
1. Toughen up the fragile MSU psyche.
Hire a sports psychiatrist, bring in a motivational speaker, heck bring in Mama McNabb. Somebody's got to toughen up the fragile Spartans who seem to put all their eggs in the Michigan and Ohio State baskets. Smith needs to change the culture by getting deeply steeped in Michigan State's rich winning tradition.
Every recruit who enters the program first item of business should be to watch tapes of the great MSU teams of the late 50s and early 60s that dominated the Big Ten. Smith ought to have one of those players from the great State teams of the past serves as honorary captain each week.
If Smith doesn't do anything else, he must change the culture of win early, lose late. Its unacceptable. He should be forced to make the changes listed above or resign. If he can't or won't change, bring in a coach that will.