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Michigan State coaching candidates - the big names the Spartans should call to replace Mel Tucker


Week 4 of the college football season is a crazy one, but as Notre Dame-Ohio State, Florida State-Clemson and others get set to take the field, another crazy season is quietly getting ready to begin.


Coaching carousel season, aka silly season.


That's right, with Mel Tucker officially getting fired this week, it's time to look at the names that could replace him, with our look at Michigan State's coaching candidates.



Mike Elko: head coach, Duke


This offseason, there might not be a bigger head coaching candidate on the market than Mike Elko. Duke won nine games a year ago, is undefeated in football right now, including a dominant win over Clemson to open the season. Also even though he is based in the mid-Atlantic part of the country right now he has ties to the Midwest, as defensive coordinator at both Bowling Green and Notre Dame.


The only worry for Michigan State - they likely aren't the only school that will pursue him. Elko is going to be a candidate for every job that opens this year and if an even bigger job opens (say, Texas A&M) expect him to be a candidate there as well.


Pat Narduzzi: head coach, Pitt


It isn't the sexiest name, but Pat Narduzzi has history with Michigan State as the defensive coordinator for the Spartans from 2007-2014. The Spartans defenses under him were great and represented the hard-nosed idea of Big Ten football very well. From 2011-2014, Michigan State was the only team to rank in the top 10 of total defense and rushing defense. The 2012 and 2013 teams lead the Big Ten in total defense, and he won the Broyles award for the top assistant in 2013. As the head coach at Pitt, Narduzzi has a 63-42 record since 2015. He had his best season two years ago behind a solid defense and with Kenny Pickett under center when the Panthers won the ACC and appeared in the Peach Bowl.


Narduzzi is the perfect candidate for the Spartans, but he might not be as highly sought after this offseason after the struggles we’ve seen from the Panthers so far this year. We know he'll have support from his former boss Mark Dantonio who is currently in the building consulting interim head coach Harlond Barnett.


Jim Leonhard, analyst Illinois


Jim Leonhard is relatively new to coaching after joining his alma mater, Wisconsin, as the defensive backs coach in 2016. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017 and was an instant fit when he was a finalist for the Broyles award that year. After Paul Chryst was fired last season, Leonhard took over as the interim coach and he led the Badgers to a 5-3 record. He’s on Illinois’ coaching staff as an analyst and should be in the mix for any coaching staff. He will be a name in coaching this offseason and Michigan State is a school that would absolutely hire him.


Sean Lewis, offensive coordinator Colorado


With the massive spotlight on Colorado, Sean Lewis deserves a ton of credit for what he’s helped that offense do this season in a massive turnaround from where they were. Sean Lewis has helped the Colorado offense and Shedeur Sanders take that next step in being a very exciting offense. He also has head coaching experience because he came over from Kent State and helped the Golden Flashes two bowl appearances, both of which were the first two appearances in school history. He also knows the Big Ten and the Midwest, having been a Wisconsin grad and staying the Big Ten part of the country since 2011 when he joined Akron.



Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator New England Patriots


Bill O’Brien has been in and around college football for a while, even if he's currently in the NFL with the New England Patriots. He’s most well-known in college football for saving Penn State after the scandal that rocked the school and then most recently worked under Nick Saban as the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. He’s back in New England, but considering his aggressiveness in trying to get college jobs the last two off-seasons, it seems like he is open to another run as a college head coach. With his Big Ten ties and the Spartans in need of a spark on offense, the fit actually makes sense.


Jonathan Smith, head coach Oregon State


As Oregon State gets set for a Top 20 showdown this weekend with Washington State, there's no doubt that Smith has done an incredible job reviving a dormant program. The question now is, what does he want his future to be? He is a former Beaver player who cried at his introductory press conference, so he clearly loves his school - but it's also a school with an uncertain future thanks to realignment. Because of that uncertain future, it also seems unlikely that Oregon State could match if Michigan State threw crazy money at him.


Would Smith actually leave Oregon State for another job? That's hard to say. But if he would, and the Beavers continue to have success, expect him to be a hot candidate.


Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus



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