Hey Hondo! Answering Your Michigan State Football Questions, Why Jonathan Smith?

Sports Illustrated’s Hondo Carpenter answers the emails and questions of Spartan Nation regarding Michigan State Football.
Michigan State coach Jonathan Smith takes the podium before talking to the media on the first national signing day for college football recruits Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Michigan State coach Jonathan Smith takes the podium before talking to the media on the first national signing day for college football recruits Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. / Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA

The Spartan Nation is fortunate to have one of the most storied college football programs.

With multiple national titles and single-handedly breaking the color barrier, along with a lineage of players who are genuinely the who’s who of the sport, the heritage is fantastic.

So today, I set out to answer some of your questions regarding the football program.

Hondo, he was my first choice once you tweeted about Jonathan Smith.  Can you tell me what you liked about him before anyone else even mentioned him?  Michael S. (Lyons, MI)

Over two years ago, in my work covering the NFL, scouts, and the NFL started talking about how good of a coach he was and how they thought he ran an insignificant program with terrible facilities and little money like a machine. He was organized and structured. He was detailed and a great teacher. Most of all, I have never heard of one legitimate football person who doesn't admire, respect, and love the guy.

One NFL executive, who knows I am a Spartan told me, “He is Nick Saban 2.0, but a nice guy.”  Now I like Nick and think he is a nice guy, but Smith is so well respected.

One NFL GM told me, “He is the best coach in college football that no one knows about.”  Again, that was a long time before Mel Tucker was canned.

Another coach told me, “Jonathan Smith, up there at Oregon State, has no national attention, but he runs his program better than several NFL teams. He is the best developer of talent in college football.”

Nick Saban is the greatest coach in college football history, but he wasn’t that at Michigan State.  He was good, but he had to develop. Jonathan Smith is the best coach at Michigan State for football since Duffy Daugherty.  He is the real deal.

I knew from people in East Lansing long before the public did how bad the Tucker regime was, and I had my eye on Smith the entire time once I started hearing about him.

The Spartans hit the jackpot, he will do his part, now Spartan Nation must do theirs.

Hondo, what was the biggest problem that Jonathan Smith inherited with Michigan State?  George L.

I have said for a long time that the biggest problem at Michigan State is people who don’t care about Michigan State.  They use Michigan State to determine what they can get from it.  Tom Izzo is the exception.  So many selfish people had destroyed Michigan State football. 

Jonathan Smith must rebuild the program at every level. I believe he is the best coach for the job, without any question. 

He is not an egomaniac. He fits our culture and is a long-term thinker, not looking to jump. If MSU takes care of him, he will be here for a long time.

Hondo, do you think Michigan State, with Smith, can get back to sustained success?  Can you please tell me why or why not?  S. Hein

Absolutely.  He did it in a worse conference, with horrible facilities, in a place more difficult to win.  If Spartan Nation gets him the NIL money, he will win and win big.  He will need time; Spartan Nation doesn’t understand how bad the program was when he arrived.  Patience and NIL money will return Michigan State where it should be.

Hondo, do you have any idea how Coach Smith is being received by High School coaches around the state?  Greg S.

Terrifically and let me give details.  I have a long-time dear friend who is one of the most influential people in the Southeast area of Michigan in sports.  A tremendous educator who has impacted nearly every school with mentoring of coaches, influence, and other things.

Recently, my wife and I were in Southeast Michigan. We went to church in Southfield and then had dinner with him.

Eventually, the subject went from family, church, God, politics, and sports.  He told us, “There is no one in East Lansing outside of Tom Izzo who has any clue how bad the Spartans' relationship with this part of the state was.  If not for Tom's deep love and respect, they would have been treated like outsiders down here.  Mel didn’t inherit a great situation after (Mark) Dantonio, and Mel made it worse.  Coach Smith is a genuine, real guy, nothing fake, nothing other than a real good man.  Different than Tom, but cut from the exact same cloth.  I think there are good things ahead for him.  He is liked.”

Hondo, were so many people leaving a bad sign for Smith?  I love football, but I am clueless.  Tanya W.

Great question.  He cleaned the house.  Did Michigan State want them all to go?  No, but there are no tears.

One reason to love Smith and his staff is that he doesn’t take shortcuts.  Clear away the ancillary things, and go to work building.  Players leaving, to me, is nothing to be concerned about if you want him to build a sustained winner and not a fake, one-hit wonder to move on.

Hondo, what is the biggest offensive question? Jaimie S.

Who will be the playmaker outside of QB? Aidan Chiles is a stud. He has a monster arm, a tremendous football IQ, and is a super kid. Having him lead the way makes things a little easier to digest when thinking of reasons to be optimistic. That said, he can’t make throws to himself, and every team on the schedule will enter every game trying to stop him.

If guys don't step up, he may not have the greatest numbers in 2024. To Spartan opponents, he is public enemy number one, and finding him weapons will determine how well 2024 goes.

Hondo, how do you see this season, and any ideas on how many wins?  G. Yandi

To me, this is a reset year.  Mel Tucker’s destruction of the program was deep and brutal.  But, make no mistake, the people who connected Michigan State football to Tucker are gone.  They should be.

It isn’t Smith's fault; he is brought in to fix it.

Let me give you an example. I have a friend who owns a terrific business. After a disaster, flood, fire, or other calamity, insurance companies bring him in to clean, repair, and restore the damage.

Once, on a hunting trip, a tough client relentlessly tore into him, and finally, he said to them on the phone, “I am sorry you aren’t happy with all the repairs, restoration, and cleaning. Perhaps you should yell at the person who started the fire, but it isn’t my fault. I will gladly quit, but I am the best in the business and it won't be as good as I do it., but I'm not going to take this from you.”

The moronic imbeciles that hired, and subsequently gave Tucker an undeserved raise and extension are no longer here.  The damage is bad, worse than people even know.

Smith was not the biggest name in college football, but he was, the very best coach.  Let him fix it, he can.

Spartan Nation must trust him.  He is going to build a Big Ten competitive, smash-mouth football program for the long term.

It will probably take three years to get there, but he will do it. He is as fine a man, human being, and coach as there is, and Spartan Nation is fortunate to have him.

Let me add this: He had a lot of choices. Michigan State needed him far more than he needed Michigan State. He wants to be here, he fits the culture, and he is the very best fit.

Trust him, trust the process.

This year? I can see only three wins, and at best seven. If he gets Michigan State to six games and a bowl bid, it will be an amazing year. Very tough to do.

If you have a question regarding Michigan State football, basketball, or the athletic program in general, please send it to, and when you do, put in the subject line MSU Q & A.

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Hondo Carpenter