Jeff Thorne, father of MSU QB, set to become WMU's offensive coordinator

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It will be a house divided Saturday, Sept. 3, at Spartan Stadium.

Jeff Thorne, the father of Michigan State starting quarterback Payton Thorne, is set to become offensive coordinator at Western Michigan, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Detroit News. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal isn't yet final. An announcement is expected next week.

Western Michigan opens the 2022 season at Michigan State.

Jeff Thorne, who led North Central to the Division III national championship, is poised to join the staff at Western Michigan.

The hire is a boon for an already-stout Western Michigan offense, which ranked 12th in the nation in yards per game in 2021 (466.4). That was tops in the Mid-American Conference.

It wasn't immediately clear how the staffing situation will sort itself out at Western Michigan, which has an opening after receivers coach Greg Harbaugh Jr. left to reunite with P.J. Fleck at Minnesota. Western Michigan had co-offensive coordinators in 2021 — Eric Evans, who also coached the quarterbacks, and Mike Bath, who also coached the running backs. It is expected Thorne will assume one of those co-OC positions or take on the sole position. 

Thorne comes to Western Michigan from North Central, a Division III program in suburban Chicago which he led to the 2019 national championship and the 2021 title game. In seven years as head coach (six seasons; 2020 was canceled by COVID-19), Thorne posted a 66-10 record. He was promoted from offensive coordinator after the 2014 season, taking over for his father and Payton's grandfather, John.

Jeff Thorne resigned this week as head coach at North Central.

"Our football program will benefit from Coach Thorne's time here for many years to come," North Central athletic director Jim Miller said in a statement released by the school Wednesday. "We all want to recognize and thank him for his leadership and role in elevating the program to a place of national respect."

The connection between WMU head coach Tim Lester and the Thornes goes back decades. They are Wheaton, Illinois, natives, Lester starring at Wheaton South and playing for John Thorne, and Jeff Thorne at Wheaton Central. Lester, a former Western Michigan quarterback who has a big hand in the Broncos' play-calling, long has considered Jeff Thorne a premier offensive mind.

Thorne will inherit an offense that was spectacular in 2021 as the Broncos went 8-5 with a win over Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl, but also loses two key players to the NFL Draft — receiver Skyy Moore and quarterback Kaleb Eleby. The receiving corps will benefit from a talented group of underclassmen, while there will be a three-man battle for the quarterback job, one candidate being Alabama transfer Stone Hollenbach.

Payton Thorne is one of Jeff and Joanna's three children, and emerged as a standout in 2021, throwing for 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns in helping lead the Spartans to a surprising 11-2 season and a win over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl.

While at Naperville Central, Payton Thorne originally committed to play for Lester and Western Michigan before flipping to Michigan State.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984