The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but in the case of the Michigan State head coach opening it most certainly is for a handful of candidates.
Much of the hubbub since Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker was officially fired has centered on Pat Narduzzi, the former Spartans defensive coordinator, and Mike Elko, who has improbably led Duke to a 4-1 start including a beatdown of Clemson that served up another round of delicious Chad Morris schadenfreude to Razorback fans.
Hogs Winning Affects Michigan State Football Top Candidate?
Elko, however, came to Duke after serving as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. If the Aggies’ Jimbo Fisher produces another clunker of a season, which seems less likely after back to back convincing wins over Auburn and Arkansas, then Elko would presumably go to the top of the list of candidates to replace him.
No, the Aggies almost certainly won’t pay the next coach nearly $100 million but rest assured Elko could make significantly more at Texas A&M than Michigan State. Yes, Michigan State gave Tucker a 10-year, $95 million deal in 2021 but as Aaron Torres points out based on his sources, there is “a growing kind of in-house bickering amongst everybody involved – the administration, the boosters” about whether to pay the next coach anything close to this per year.
Part of that hesitation comes from Tucker’s recent struggles on the field even before the allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. Just as Razorback fans wonder about Sam Pittman, some Michigan State football fans wonder if Tucker lost some of his hunger and drive after a great season in 2021. Perhaps, they fear, it would never return and 2021 would prove to be the coach’s high point.
There’s also the wrongful termination lawsuit Tucker has filed against Michigan State for the firing with cause, which means the Spartans aren’t responsible for paying not responsible for paying Tucker any of the nearly $79 million that remained on his lengthy contract with the program.
In that context, as Torres point out, “do you want to commit a $100-plus million to the next guy knowing that Mel Tucker might win something in court and you could owe him 25, 30, 40 million dollars, whatever?”
Dan Enos Enters the Equation
Given all the financial unknowns at play, it won’t be a surprise if Michigan State opts to go for a coordinator and pay that person less than something in the $9-$10 million per year range.
A few candidates here, according to college football insider Brett McMurphy, are Wisconsin defensive coordinator Mike Tressel and LSU defensive coordinator Matt House.
The one name McMurphy’s source threw out that caused a few proverbial record screeches was none other than Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos, whose offense did a number in the second half of House’s defense in a Week 4 showdown in Baton Rouge but regressed woefully a week later against Texas A&M, going a full 42 minutes of game time without a first down.
Enos is pretty well known for job hopping, not having stayed at a program more than 2 years since his first go-around at Arkansas in 2015-17, but leaving for this job would be a shocker.
Sure, Enos started his college coaching career at Michigan State after starring as the program’s quarterback and battling allegations of public urination, and then later returned to coach the program’s quarterback and running back positions, but his first and only shot at head coaching didn’t exactly blow anybody away.
In five seasons in charge of Central Michigan, Enos led the Chippewas to an overall 26–36 record, with the high point being an appearance against Western Kentucky in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. His first five games this time around at Arkansas, which culminated in a total output of 174 yards vs Texas A&M, have been less an inspiring.
It’s little wonder, then, that the reactions to Enos’ inclusion on the list of Michigan State football candidates were less than enthusiastic among some Spartan fans.
Central Michigan and Michigan fans, meanwhile, were very enthusiastic about the prospect:
At Arkansas, the 55-year-old Enos is currently making $1.1 million a year but with a boost of $75,000 per year through 2027. Considering the lowest paid coaches in the Big Ten are in the $2.5 million to $4 million a year range, it would seem that Michigan State could triple his salary while stilling getting a bargain basement price for a head coach relative to the rest of the conference.
Former Arkansas Football Player Also on Spartans List
Over at The Athletic, Bruce Feldman also threw together a list of Michigan State football coach candidates after talking to his source. It includes a former Razorback player alongside Kansas head coach Lance Leipold, Washington State’s Jake Dickert, Marshall’s Charles Huff and South Alabama coach Kane Wommack, the son of former Arkansas defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
Kane Wommack has led South Alabama to a 2-3 record to start the season but that includes a 33-7 shellacking of Oklahoma State on the road. That comes on the heels of a 10-3 season in 2022 and narrow loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The 36-year-old has Big Ten bonafides, too, considering his role as a DC helping Indiana finish No. 12 in 2020.
Wommack played for Fayetteville High while his dad coached the Razorbacks in 2001-2004 and then made the Arkansas football team, opting to stay in Fayetteville even after his father left for South Carolina.
He played tight end and fullback in a loaded backfield including Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
“Wommack had just two carries for 5 yards in 2006 as part of a Razorback squad that went 9-3 and won Arkansas’ most recent SEC Western Division title,” the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Mitchell Gladstone wrote. “He learned both from offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and his teammates, but Wommack revered Coach Houston Nutt.”
“Houston Nutt was just one of the most tremendous and dynamic motivators that you’ll ever see in the game,” Wommack said. “The way he was able to feel the pulse of a football team and recognize the message that they needed in order to best give themselves an opportunity to win that next week was something that I carry.”
During the good years, Houston Nutt was especially good at getting two and three star talent to consistently play like blue-chip players. That’s something every good Razorback football coach has needed to do in order to be successful since the program will never have the same number of elite recruits as the SEC blue bloods.
Coincidentally, the same can be said for Michigan State and the Big Ten. The Spartans won’t even have the same number of four and five stars as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, but as Mike D’Antonio and Mel Tucker (temporarily) have recently showed, that can be overcome with physicality and great coaching.
Indeed, the Spartans have had a recent run of success that Hog fans would love, with seven 10+ wins since 2010 and a College Football Playoff appearance in 2015.
Whether Dan Enos coaches at Arkansas or Michigan State next year, his charge will be the same.
Michigan State Coaching Candidates (besides Enos, Narduzzi, et al)
Name: Mike Elko
Current School: Duke HC
Contract/Salary: Through 2029, $2.1 million
Name: Bill O’Brien
Current Team: New England Patriots OC
Name: Matt House
Current team: LSU DC
Contract/Salary: Through 2025, $1.9 million
Name: Jake Dickert
Current team: Washington State
Contract/Salary: Through 2027, $2.7 million