By all indications, the Michigan State football head coaching search is entering into its final stretch as the Spartans look to find a new leader for their football program.
Spartans Illustrated has learned that at least four candidates have progressed to second round interviews with Michigan State. These interviews have been virtual. Rivals’ national recruiting analyst Clint Cosgrove has confirmed with sources that MSU has interviewed at least these four coaches for its football head coaching position.
All four coaches are in their mid-40s and have years of experience running FBS football programs to varying degrees of success. As we mentioned in our previous article, it is important to be clear that these are not necessarily the final four candidates — or even the top four candidates — being considered by Michigan State.
Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, 44, makes sense as a young coach who would be considered to have a lot of potential with the resources MSU can offer. With the Pac-12 Conference crumbling and Oregon State potentially playing a schedule mostly against Mountain West teams next year, that would obviously lead to lesser revenue and more limited resources for the Beavers.
Smith has Oregon State performing at a high-level this year as OSU is ranked in the top 15 with a 8-2 record, those losses being to Washington State and Arizona. Smith is an Oregon State alumnus, and all of his coaching stops have been out west, however, and that could keep him in Corvallis. But if there was ever a time to look at a young Pac-12 coach and entice him to make a move to the Midwest, it would be now.
Arizona’s Jedd Fisch, 47, is connected to the state through his work at the University of Michigan where he was the pass game coordinator for Jim Harbaugh (2015-2016) after being the offensive coordinator with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, and before he became the offensive coordinator at UCLA in 2017.
His Wildcats have been impressive in their final year in the Pac-12 before they move to the Big 12, with a 7-3 record and a top 20 ranking. This year, U of A has had three wins against Top 25 teams in consecutive games for the first time in program history.
Toledo’s Jason Candle, 44, has always been a small college guy. He’s from the Matt Campbell coaching tree where he served as offensive coordinator and assistant coach at Mount Union before being hired by the Rockets. When Campbell took over as head coach of Toledo at the end of 2011, he promoted Candle to offensive coordinator. Then after Campbell left for Iowa State ahead of the 2016 season, Candle took over the Rockets program.
Candle coached Toledo to a victory in the 2015 Bocca Raton Bowl. His entire FBS career has been at Toledo, where he has been successful, with a 64-33 record. He was MAC coach of the year in 2017, and the Rockets were MAC champions in 2017 and 2022. Candle has led the Rockets to a 10-1 record this year and Toledo is on the verge of cracking the Top 25 AP poll – currently ranked below Iowa and Kansas in the other teams receiving votes category.
Duke’s Mike Elko, 46, has been on the wish list for Michigan State since the search began. While this is a new development, officially, it should be noted that Spartans Illustrated did not rule Elko out as an option when we reported the four candidates being considered a couple of weeks ago. It is now confirmed via sources that Elko is a candidate being pursued by the Spartans.
Elko was an FCS guy until he joined the Bowling Green staff in 2009 under Dave Clawson, with whom he had coached at Fordham and Richmond. He stayed through 2013 before moving to Wake Forest for three seasons as Clawson’s defensive coordinator. Elko then spent a year as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 2017 before heading down to Texas A&M for the 2018 through 2021 seasons. Elko was then hired by Duke in 2022 where he was named the ACC coach of the year in his first season. Elko has brought the Blue Devils to national prominence with another successful season this year, currently sitting at 6-4 on the season.
Stick with Spartans Illustrated and Rivals for up-to-date coverage of all things Michigan State, including the final days/weeks of the coaching search.
GET THE INSIDE SCOOP ON THE SPARTANS WITH A PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION TO SPARTANS ILLUSTRATED!
Join the discussion on this article in our premium forums by clicking here.