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Michigan State Football: 9 Coaching Candidates to Replace Mark Dantonio

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans Football

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans Football

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has decided to retire, ending a 13-year tenure in East Lansing. The Spartans went 115-57 under Dantonio, played in the CFB Playoff during the 2015 season and finished No. 3 after a 13-1 record in ’13. Michigan State won 10 games in 2017 but regressed to back-to-back 7-6 marks over the last two years. Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel will work as the program’s interim coach until a full-time replacement is named.

Who could replace Dantonio at Michigan State? Here are nine names to watch in the coaching search:

9 Coaching Candidates to Replace Mark Dantonio at Michigan State

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M

Elko is one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, spending time as a signal-caller at a handful of stops since 2001, including Bowling Green, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Texas A&M. Elko took over in College Station prior to the 2018 campaign and has guided the defense to improvement over the last two years. He does not have any FBS head-coaching experience.

Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming

Bohl has been a successful coach at two different stops and knows how to maximize the talent on a roster. He went 104-32 at North Dakota State with three FCS national championships from 2003-13. Bohl took over at Wyoming – one of the Mountain West’s toughest jobs – in 2014 and went 6-18 through his first two seasons. However, Wyoming has won at least six games in each of the last four years and has played in three bowl contests in that span. The Cowboys have claimed at least eight victories three times since 2017. His overall coaching record is 140-72 entering 2020.

Tony Elliott, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson

Elliott is a rising star in the assistant ranks and is primed to land a head-coaching job in the coming seasons. Elliott has worked as an assistant at Clemson since 2011 and is regarded for his work on offense and on the recruiting trail. After coaching running backs from 2011-14, Elliott took over the play-calling duties when Chad Morris left for SMU prior to the 2015 campaign. Under Elliott’s watch, Clemson has not ranked lower than third in the ACC in scoring and led the conference twice (2018-19). Elliott does not have any previous experience as a head coach.

Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati

Fickell is no stranger to life in the Big Ten. After playing at Ohio State, Fickell landed on the staff in Columbus as an assistant and remained in that role until 2016. He served as the program’s interim coach in 2011, guiding the Buckeyes to a 6-7 mark and a bowl trip. Cincinnati is 26-13 since Fickell arrived in 2017. The Bearcats at 22-5 since 2018 and have finished in the top 25 in back-to-back seasons.

Bryan Harsin, Head Coach, Boise State

Harsin’s a longshot to leave his alma mater, but he’s a name to watch in this search or for any Power 5 opening. Since replacing Chris Petersen at Boise State in 2014, Harsin is 64-17 overall and 40-8 in Mountain West play. The Broncos have won at least 10 games in five out of Harsin’s six years. He also had a one-year stint at Arkansas State in 2013 (7-5). Boise State is expected to once again rank as one of the top Group of 5 programs for 2020.

Clark Lea, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame

Lea’s name popped up in the search at Boston College, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to be a head coach. The Tennessee native worked as an assistant at UCLA, South Dakota State, Bowling Green, Syracuse and Wake Forest before landing on Notre Dame’s staff in 2017. He’s worked as the defensive coordinator in South Bend for the last two years and played a big role in the team going 23-3 in that span.

Lance Leipold, Head Coach, Buffalo

Leipold is a coach familiar with territory in the Big Ten, as he spent 2007-14 at Division III as the head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks went 109-6 with six national championships during his watch. Leipold left to be the head coach at Buffalo in 2015 and went 7-17 during his first two years. However, the Bulls are 24-15 over the last three seasons and claimed the 2018 MAC East title.

Pat Narduzzi, Head Coach, Pitt

Narduzzi worked at Michigan State as the program’s defensive coordinator from 2007-14, so there’s a natural tie to Dantonio and East Lansing. Narduzzi left Michigan State to be the head coach at Pitt and has assembled a 36-29 record since 2015. The Panthers have won at least seven games in four out of Narduzzi’s five years at the helm. Additionally, Pitt claimed the Coastal Division title in 2018.

Mike Tressel, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State

Could Dantonio’s replacement come from within? Tressel is working as the interim coach but should be considered for the full-time role. He joined the staff in 2007 and was promoted to co-defensive coordinator in 2014. Tressel took over the full-time role in 2018 and help Michigan State finish first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (17.2) that season. Tressel has no previous experience as a FBS head coach.

Podcast: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State and National Signing Day