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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Cory Linsner

Power ranking 10 candidates for Michigan State football’s head coaching job: Version 1.0

Following a massive USA TODAY investigation, Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller announced to the public that the University plans to fire Mel Tucker for cause, which would imply that a coaching search is imminent, if not already underway.

At no slight to acting head coach Harlon Barnett, it’s only natural that there  has been a lot of chatter already amongst the Michigan State fan base and media around who could be the next man up to be the long-term head coach at MSU.

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In this series, we will be ranking the potential candidates that could be in the running to take over Michigan State’s job. The list will be capped at ten names (for now) along with a few other honorable mentions, and will fluctuate based on how coaches are performing this season along with any rumored or confirmed interest from the Spartans:

10. PJ Fleck (Minnesota HC)

There was interest between the two parties in 2020, could that rekindle now that his buyout is lower? Fleck is also not looking so good at the moment, with offseason rumors about some odd behavior and a horrible loss to Northwestern, MSU fans might riot if this guy ends up leading the program. However, his success at Minnesota, in the aggregate, is impressive.

9. Matt House (LSU DC)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If LSU didn’t lose to FSU to open the season, this name would probably be much hotter for MSU right now, and probably for just about every job in the country. That being said, House is the defensive coordinator for a top-15 team in the country, has MSU connections, and an impressive resume that includes a Super Bowl championship.

8. Jim Leonhard (Illinois analyst)

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

At one time, Leonhard was one of the hottest coordinators in America, while not coaching this year and just filling an analyst role for Illinois – interest could peak here and he could easily slide into the program from his current role.

7. Jason Candle (Toledo HC)

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Candle has a lot of Midwest, and specifically Detroit, connections that could put him in the running for this job. He is 3-1 this season and arguably could be 4-0.

6. Sean Lewis (Colorado OC)

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A long time Kent State coach, Lewis is someone to monitor as he leads Colorado’s offense this season.

5. Jonathan Smith (Oregon State)

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Another hot name for some in the media, Jonathan Smith has built a top 25 program in Corvallis. A loss to Dickert’s Washington State team has him a peg down for me, and the fact he hasn’t coached east of the Mississippi River in his coaching career.

4. Charles Huff (Marshall HC)

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

A lot of buzz has been centered around Marshall’s Charles Huff, and admittedly he could be on a rise on this list as the season goes on, but now he checks in at No. 4 after a huge win over Virginia Tech and starting 3-0 this season.

3. Dave Doeren (NC State HC)

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

A sneaky name on the list, Doeren hasn’t been talked about much when it comes to the MSU job, but he should. Doeren has built a solid program in Raleigh and could be a target the Spartans look to poach. NC State is 3-1 in 2023 thus far.

2. Jake Dickert (Washington State HC)

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Dickert is a name that is slowly creeping into the minds of Spartans fans. A defensive head coach, that endorses an air-raid on offense, Dickert checks a lot of boxes that fans want. Coming into this year, Dickert sported a 10-9 record in 1.5 years, but now has Washington State 4-0 with wins over Oregon State and Wisconsin.

1. Mike Elko (Duke HC)

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

To open the list is Duke’s Mike Elko, a man that a lot of fans have at the top of their list. After a 9-4 2022 season, Elko has the Blue Devils rolling in 2023, opening the season 4-0 with a huge showdown with Notre Dame coming this weekend.

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