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Michigan State officials have not yet interviewed anybody to become the next football coach, and are still putting together a list of candidates, a high-ranking university source told The Detroit News on Thursday afternoon, as rumors swirled across the Internet about the supposed strong candidacy of Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell.

The source, who asked not to be identified because they are not running the search, but said they had been in contact with athletic director Bill Beekman, said "there are zero interviews, zero names; that's a fact."

That would coincide with what university officials told The News on Tuesday — that Mark Dantonio's retirement decision caught many of them by total surprise.

No new coach will be hired this week, the source said, and possibly not even until late next week or beyond.

The source said Beekman, who has hired one coach (rowing) since becoming athletic director in July 2018, is fully in charge of the search to replace Dantonio, and added there is no timeline or "sense of urgency" to make a hire.

MSU's recruiting class already is almost entirely locked in, despite Dantonio's announcement one day before National Signing Day. The only holdout commitment is running back Jordon Simmons, a three-star recruit from Georgia who said on social media he wants to see how things play out before signing his national letter of intent.

Dantonio, 63, retired after 13 seasons as head coach, a mostly successful tenure that included a Rose Bowl win and a College Football Playoff appearance, but also a tenure that's been trending downward in recent seasons — coinciding with several off-field incidents that now have spilled into the courts.

Late Monday night, hours before Dantonio made his announcement, he was accused in a lawsuit filed by former staffer Curtis Blackwell of multiple NCAA violations.

Dantonio said the lawsuit had "zero" to do with his decision to retire, and Beekman called the claims "false," despite not being involved in athletics at the time of the incidents in question.

Upon Dantonio's announcement, immediate speculation turned to Fickell, who insisted Wednesday he has not been in contact with MSU (and nor has his agent, since he has no agent), as well as Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi, a longtime Dantonio defensive coordinator at Michigan State who strongly suggested he wants to stay at his job.

One local report had Michigan State negotiating with Fickell. The high-ranking Michigan State source called that "fantasy."

Fickell, 46, has three years left on his contract that pays him $2.3 million a year. His buyout at the moment would be $2.5 million.

Narduzzi, 53, signed a long-term extension late in 2017 that takes him through 2024, and he earns $3.2 million. He's also said to have a significant buyout. Late in his tenure at Michigan State, he was widely considered the heir apparent to one day succeed Dantonio, but he has had only moderate success in six seasons at Pitt.

Dantonio earned $4.1 million, which is middle of the road by Big Ten standards.

Michigan State, per standard procedure, has hired a search committee.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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