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Michigan State's Coaching Search Continues: Who Are the Top Remaining Candidates?

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans Football

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans Football

Michigan State’s coaching search to replace Mark Dantonio continues after Luke Fickell decided not to leave Cincinnati. In addition to Fickell, fellow head coaches in Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Colorado’s Mel Tucker reportedly passed on showing interest in the opening. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is also not a candidate for the job.

With some of the top candidates passing on the job, who are the top coaching options available for Michigan State? Here are 13 candidates to watch:

Michigan State Football Coaching Candidates to Replace Mark Dantonio

Bret Bielema, Outside Linebackers Coach, New York Giants

Bielema’s stint at Arkansas ended in disappointment, but he previously went 68-24 at Wisconsin from 2006-12. Bielema’s overall mark as a head coach at the collegiate level is 97-58. After his dismissal with the Razorbacks, Bielema worked for two years with the Patriots and is slated to coach outside linebackers with the Giants in 2020.

Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming

Bohl has been a successful head coach at two different jobs. From 2003-13, he went 104-32 at North Dakota State and guided the program to three FCS titles. Bohl is 36-40 at Wyoming – a very difficult FBS job – and has led the Cowboys to three bowl trips over the last four years.

Chris Creighton, Head Coach, Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan is one of the toughest jobs in college football, but Creighton has guided this program to three winning records over the last four years. The Eagles started 3-21 in Creighton’s first two seasons but have won at least five games in each of the last four years. Prior to Eastern Michigan, Creighton went 41-22 at Drake (2008-13), 63-15 at Wabash (2001-07) at 32-9 at Ottawa (1997-00).

Tony Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson

Elliott is the highest-paid offensive coordinator in college football, so it would take the right job to pull him away from Clemson. While it’s a longshot, Michigan State should at least inquire to see if he has any interest.

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M

Elko has worked as a defensive coordinator at four different FBS jobs since the 2009 season. Whether it’s at Bowling Green (2009-13), Wake Forest (2014-16), Notre Dame (2017) and Texas A&M (2018-19), Elko has made an impact on a defense and is regarded as one of the top coordinators in the nation.

Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma

Grinch is a coach on the rise entering the 2020 season. The Ohio native worked as an assistant at Wyoming and Missouri before landing the defensive coordinator job at Washington State. The Cougars showed marked improvement under Grinch’s watch (2015-17). Grinch worked for one season at Ohio State (2018) before taking over as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator in ’19. The Sooners showed progress on this side of the ball last year and expect to take another step forward in 2020.

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Butch Jones, Analyst, Alabama

Jones is a Michigan native and coached in the state from 1998-04 as an assistant at Central Michigan and from 2007-09 as the program’s head coach. Jones went 27-13 with the Chippewas from 2007-09 and guided Cincinnati to a 23-14 mark from 2010-12. He was dismissed at Tennessee after a 4-6 start in 2017 but compiled a 34-27 mark overall and led the program to three winning records. Jones has worked as an analyst at Alabama over the last two seasons.

Clark Lea, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame

It was no surprise when Lea’s name was mentioned in the search at Boston College this offseason. The Tennessee native is off to a solid start in South Bend after a promotion to defensive coordinator in 2018. Prior to Notre Dame, Lea worked at UCLA, Bowling Green, Syracuse and Wake Forest as an assistant.

Lance Leipold, Head Coach, Buffalo

Leipold went 109-6 at Wisconsin-Whitewater and is 31-32 overall at Buffalo. After a 13-23 start over his first three years with the Bulls, the program is 18-9 in the last two seasons.

Sean Lewis, Head Coach, Kent State

Lewis is a rising star after two seasons at Kent State. After playing his college ball at Wisconsin, Lewis quickly moved through the coaching ranks and landed on Dino Babers’ staff at Eastern Illinois in 2012. After two years with the Panthers, he followed Babers to Bowling Green and Syracuse in an assistant role. Lewis was hired as Kent State’s head coach in 2018 and has guided the program to a 9-16 record over two years. The Golden Flashes finished 2-10 in 2018 but showed marked improvement last year with a 7-6 finish.

Jim McElwain, Head Coach, Central Michigan

McElwain coached at Michigan State from 2003-05 as an assistant. He also has stops on his resume from stints at Fresno State, Alabama and in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain went 22-15 as Colorado State’s head coach from 2012-14, finished 22-12 in less than three full years at Florida and had a successful debut (8-6) at Central Michigan in 2019. The Chippewas were one of the most-improved teams in the nation last season.

Pat Shurmur, Offensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos

Shurmur is Michigan native and played his college ball with the Spartans. He hasn’t coached in college since 1998 but has a wealth of NFL experience. Shurmur went 9-23 as the Browns head coach from 2011-12 and matched that record in a two-year stint with the Giants 2018-19.

Mike Tressel, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan State

Tressel is currently serving as the program’s interim coach while the search is ongoing. He’s worked as the primary defensive coordinator in East Lansing over the last two years but joined the staff in 2007. Tressel does not have any experience as a head coach at the FBS level.

Podcast: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State and National Signing Day