East Lansing – With the apparent front-runner off the market, where does Michigan State turn in its search for a football coach?
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell on Monday pulled himself out of the running to replace Mark Dantonio, opting to remain with the Bearcats after interviewing with Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman on Sunday.
Fickell is the latest to take himself out of the mix. Pittsburgh coach and former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi took his name out of the running last week, as did Colorado coach Mel Tucker. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who began his career as a graduate assistant with the Spartans, also reportedly turned down an interview request from Michigan State.
That leaves a dwindling pool of candidates for Michigan State. Here is a look at some of the options.
► Mike Tressel, Michigan State interim head coach and defensive coordinator
It might not be the perfect time for Tressel to get his shot, but that might be what’s about to play out. Whether Tressel has received a formal interview is unclear, but there’s a chance the Spartans leave him in place as the interim for the 2020 season and reevaluate from there. Tressel has been MSU’s sole defensive coordinator for two seasons after serving as co-coordinator with Harlon Barnett for three seasons. Before that, he coached linebackers for Dantonio at Cincinnati and Michigan State.
► Pat Shurmur, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator
A member of Michigan State’s 1987 Rose Bowl team, Shurmur has talked in the past about his desire to coach the Spartans. He was an assistant from 1990-97 before leaving for Stanford. The Dearborn native has been a head coach in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, who fired him after the end of last season. He took the Broncos job in mid-January, which could make jumping to MSU tough.
► Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan head coach
He’s 28-47 in six seasons at Eastern Michigan and has done a remarkable job the past few years in turning around one of the worst programs in FBS, recording a pair of seven-win seasons over the last three years while taking the Eagles to three bowl games. Eastern Michigan lost to Narduzzi and Pitt, 34-30, in a hard-fought Quick Lane Bowl in late December.
► Jim McElwain, Central Michigan head coach
A one-time assistant at Michigan State, McElwain won eight games in his first season with the Chippewas, leading to a spot in the New Mexico Bowl. The former Florida and Colorado State head coach was also named as a possible replacement for Mike Leach at Washington State before Nick Rolovich was hired.
► Bret Bielema, New York Giants outside linebackers coach
The former head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas spent the past two seasons with the New England Patriots before taking the Giants job, but the feeling is he would jump at the chance to get another head-coaching gig in college, not to mention the Big Ten. The question is whether the Spartans are interested in taking a shot on Bielema.
► Butch Jones, Alabama offensive analyst
Jones, a Saugatuck native who played at Ferris State, has Division 1 head-coaching roots dating to three seasons at Central Michigan from 2007-09. He's also coached at Cincinnati (2010-12) and Tennessee (2013-17), where he was fired midway through the 2017 season. He owns an 84-54 career mark, and has spent the past two seasons on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama.