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Michigan State hires Jonathan Smith: Oregon State coach leaves alma mater to take over Spartans job

Michigan State will turn to the Oregon State coach as its replacement for Mel Tucker

            Dean Straka

By Dean Straka of

Washington v Oregon State

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Michigan State has hired Jonathan Smith as its next football coach, the school announced on Saturday. Smith, 44, has spent the past six seasons as coach at Oregon State where he’s guided the Beavers to 18 wins over the past two seasons, including a 10-3 mark and No. 17 finish in the AP Top 25 during a 2022 campaign that earned him Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors. 

Smith was among the initial pool of candidates linked to the Michigan State opening after the Spartans fired fourth-year coach Mel Tucker with cause midseason amid sexual harassment allegations. Smith later emerged as the leading candidate to replace Tucker during the final week of the regular season, which saw Oregon State suffer a 31-7 loss at rival Oregon.

“Jonathan has a proven track record of success, building the Oregon State program from the ground up by implementing a plan resulting in sustained historic success for the Beavers,” said Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller in announcing the hire. “He’s been a part of championship staffs, coached in the College Football Playoff, and understands what’s required to be successful at the highest level, learning from some of the game’s most successful coaches.

“On the field, his teams are tough and physical, yet innovative. This year, Oregon State has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, ranking among the nation’s leaders in both rushing offense and rushing defense. He’s shown not only the ability to recruit talented student-athletes who fit his system, but also to develop and maximize players once they’re in the program.”Skip AdContinue watchingNFL Week 12 grades: Dolphins get ‘A-‘ for Black Friday beatdown of Jets, Cowboys earn ‘A’ for Thanksgiving winafter the ad

Although Smith posted a 34-35 overall record in six seasons at the helm in Corvallis, Oregon, the Beavers made clear progress during the back half of his tenure. Smith guided Oregon State to seven victories in 2021 after the program went 9-22 during his first three years. The 2022 season, which marked the Beavers’ first 10-win season since 2006 and highest AP Top 25 finish since 2000, resulted in a contract extension for Smith through February 2029 that bumped his annual salary to $4.85 million. Oregon State then started the 2023 season 8-2 before dropping back-to-back games against Washington and Oregon. 

Smith, who played quarterback at Oregon State from 1998-2001, held multiple assistant jobs from 2002-17 before returning to his alma mater as coach in 2018. Smith spent six seasons as an assistant under former college football coach Chris Petersen, first as Boise State’s quarterbacks coach from 2012-13 and then as Washington’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2014-17. His time in Seattle included a Pac-12 title and College Football Playoff berth for Washington during the 2016 season. 

Smith’s exit from Oregon State comes at a point where the Beavers face much uncertainty as the Pac-12 prepares to lose 10 of its 12 members ahead of the 2024 season. Oregon State and Washington State are the only schools in the conference that have not been picked up by other power leagues. Four Pac-12 members — USCUCLA, Washington and Oregon — will join Smith in the Big Ten next fall. 

Now the task for Smith is revitalizing a Michigan State program that has struggled to maintain the success of winning 10 or more games six times in eight seasons under former coach Mark Dantonio from 2010-17. The Spartans have only won more than seven games in a season once since then, finishing 11-2 under Tucker in 2021. Michigan State regressed to 5-7 in 2022 before finishing 4-8 this year, ending the season with a 42-0 loss to Penn State on Friday.