Who is Jonathan Smith? A look at Michigan State football's next coach.

Who is Jonathan Smith? A look at Michigan State football's next coach.

Brad LaPlanteDecember 15, 2023

The Michigan State Spartans football team has hired former Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith to be the newest head coach of the program. He left his alma mater at Oregon State, where he was the coach for six seasons, to coach MSU.

Under Mike Riley in 1998, Smith was a walk-on quarterback at Oregon State. However, Smith took over the starting role for the team midway through his redshirt freshman season. That year, he played in six games, completing just 45% of his passes and averaged one touchdown per game.

At Oregon State, Smith maintained the starting job through his senior season in 2001. He finished his collegiate career with 41 total games played over four seasons, a 50.6% completion rate, 9,680 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. As a junior in 2000, Smith led the Oregon State Beavers to their greatest season in school history, finishing at 11-1, a school record for wins. Oregon State also won its first share of the Pac-10 conference title in 36 years, a title shared with Washington and Oregon. Smith was also the Fiesta Bowl MVP in 2001 after Oregon State defeated Notre Dame 41-9.

Following his collegiate career, Smith pursued a career in coaching, first as a graduate assistant with his alma mater under head coach Dennis Erickson. In 2004, Smith was hired as the quarterbacks coach for the Idaho Vandals who, at the time, had recently made the leap to play in FBS. He became the offensive coordinator for the Montana Grizzlies (FCS) for two seasons from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, he made the leap to FBS once again when he coached quarterbacks at Boise State.

Smith was elevated to an offensive coordinator role at an FBS program for the first time in 2014 when he was hired at Washington after Boise State head coach Chris Petersen was hired there.

After four seasons at Washington, Smith was finally hired by his alma mater Oregon State, where he took over a program that was largely out of order. In the four seasons before Smith’s arrival, Oregon State won just a quarter of its games, at a 12-36 clip.

During his first season in 2018, the Beavers finished with a 2-10 record and last in the Pac-12 North. In 2019, Oregon State improved to 5-7, still missing out on the postseason. During Covid, Oregon State finished 2-5. However, Smith’s breakthrough season came in 2021 when the Beavers finished third in the Pac-12 North and had a 7-6 record, ultimately losing to Utah State in the LA Bowl. Oregon State had its first 10-win season since 2000 a year later when the Beavers finished 10-3 and won the Las Vegas Bowl. For 2022, Smith had been awarded a share of the Pac-12 Coach of the Year alongside Washington coach Kalen DeBoer.

This season, Oregon State finished at 8-4 and has an upcoming appearance in the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame, which Smith will not coach.

Michigan State officially named Smith the head coach on Nov. 25, 2023 after the position was left vacant in September following Mel Tucker’s sexual harassment scandal of a university vendor.

Thus far, Smith has brought along several coaches with him at Oregon State. Additionally, he is bringing former four-star quarterback Aidan Chiles with him via the transfer portal. Chiles joins an empty quarterback room after Sam Leavitt, Katin Houser and Noah Kim entered the portal following the end of this season.

MSU finished this past season with a record of 4-8. Since their 11-1 season in 2021, the Spartans are averaging 4.5 wins per season over the last two years.

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