Michigan State fires football head coach

Daily Sports Editor
Published November 5, 2002

Michigan State football coach Bobby Williams said after Saturday's loss to Michigan he wasn't sure if he lost his team.

But now he has lost his job.

Michigan State Director of Athletics Ron Mason fired Williams after practice yesterday, two days after the Spartans fell to 3-6 with their worst loss in 55 years.

Offensive coordinator Morris Watts was appointed interim coach, but said he expects there to be a new coaching staff next season.

Mason said it wasn't one incident that sparked the termination, but rather a multitude of aspects that led him to believe the program was headed in the wrong direction.

Mason said the "defining moment" was when reporters asked Williams after the Spartans' loss to Michigan Saturday if he had lost control of his team.

Williams answered, "I don't know."

"I felt if he wasn't sure, who was?" Mason said, adding he will create a plan to find a new coach, but there's no timetable.

Williams has been under fire for several weeks, as fans have booed him incessantly at home games and called for his firing.

But not everyone at Michigan State University agreed with the decision. Joel Ferguson, vice chairperson of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, said Williams' firing is unfair and starts a disturbing trend.

"Since I have been an adult, Michigan State has also had a reputation for fairness to minorities," Ferguson said. "What is now incredibly disappointing to me is that MSU, under the cover of night, has decided to ignore the facts, ignore the precedent and damage its reputation of fairness and commitment to diversity."

But Mason did consider some facts: Michigan State announced Sunday that suspended quarterback Jeff Smoker was seeking help for a substance abuse problem. That same day Michigan State also announced that another co-captain, starting tailback Dawan Moss, was dismissed from the team after being arrested and charged with drunken driving, having an open alcohol container in his car and fleeing and eluding a police officer.

Defensive end Greg Taplin was also suspended Thursday, and two other redshirt sophomores, Jason Bradley and James Cooper, voluntarily quit the team last Monday.

Williams, who was one of just four African American coaches among the 117 Division-I schools in college football, led a Michigan State team that was ranked No. 18 at the beginning of the year to a 3-6 record this season, including a 1-4 start in the Big Ten. His Spartans lost four straight games by more than 20 points and dropped six of their past seven games overall since starting the season 2-0.

Since taking over for Nick Saban in December of 1999, Williams has gone 16-17 overall, 6-15 in the Big Ten and 1-9 in Big Ten road games.