EAST LANSING - On Saturday afternoon, Michigan State will open its 97th football
season against the Idaho Vandals, in the first ever meeting between the two
The scheduling of the Vandals to open the season was due in large part
to MSU head coach John L. Smith’s ties to the program and the state.
A native of Idaho Falls, Smith coached the Vandals for six seasons from
1989-1994, leaving him as the current winningest coach in school
history with a record of 53-21.
When former 49ers head coach Dennis Erickson took the head coaching
spot at Idaho, it just made this Saturday’s matchup more intriguing.
“We scheduled the game thinking I would get to go against a former
assistant of mine and instead I get to face my former mentor,” said John L.
Smith and Erickson have a close friendship, starting back at Idaho in
1982 during Erickson’s first stint as head coach of the Vandals. Smith
served as Erickson’s defensive coordinator and assistant coach for the
four year that Erickson was the head coach.
Smith again served as Erickson’s defensive coordinator and assistant
coach to Erickson at Wyoming in 1986. Smith had the same position for
Erickson in the 87-88 season at Washington State.
Aside from Erickson, Smith also has history with several other coaching
staff members at Idaho. When serving under Erickson at Idaho, Smith
worked with current Vandals assistants Dan Cozzetto and Gregg Smith.
Smith also knows the Vandals’ linebackers/special teams coordinator
Johnny Nansen from when Nansen served as the defensive line coach for
Smith at Louisville.
Although John L. Smith might know the Idaho staff well, knowing what to
expect out of their team on Saturday is a whole different aspect.
“We try to prepare for the things that we think they are going to do.
They kept the same defensive staff so I would expect a similar defense
but we just don’t know exactly what they are going to do. We have to be
prepared to make some adjustments,” said Smith.
When asked about his coach’s connections to the Idaho football program,
senior tight end Kellen Davis said, “Actually I didn’t even know that,
he (Smith) hasn’t really talked about it in practice but as far as him
starting out there, it’s going to be big for him.”
Although the game will be all business on Saturday, afterwards it will
be a friendly meeting with Smith and his friends and former staff.