After Michigan’s 49-3 victory over Michigan State, a throng of reporters licked their chops outside the Spartans’ lockerroom as they waited for Michigan State media relations to let them talk to coach Bobby Williams. When the door was finally opened for Williams’ press conference, a mad rush ensued, as if the reporters feared that Williams would no longer be the Spartans’ head coach by the time they got to him.

Paul Wong
Jeff Phillips

It was a moment that some writers had been waiting weeks for: to question Williams after his team’s complete collapse in the biggest game of the season.

This game was Williams’ chance to partially redeem Michigan State’s most disappointing season in recent memory. Instead, the game sunk the Spartans even lower to depths that only Fraggles survive and what Williams admitted was his lowest point as coach.

Before any fingers are pointed at Williams – and there will be plenty – one should take a look as the way Michigan State played against the Wolverines.

His players admitted that they were embarrassed and that some of their teammates have quit playing. Tight end Jason Randall said that the Spartans “have people giving up on the field.” Star wide receiver Charles Rogers said that only five of 11 players on the field are committing themselves on every play.

This troubling deterioration of the players’ attitude cannot be completely blamed on Williams. But a problem lies in Williams’ leadership and how he reacted to the media scrutiny.

He blamed the media for distracting the team following the suspension of starting quarterback Jeff Smoker – which Rogers confessed to reporters was indeed a distraction.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the things you are writing about aren’t even true,” Williams said.

The rumors “are so far out in space, they aren’t even worth dignifying.”

Deflecting the blame to the media isn’t going to help his team on the field. The majority of the rumors have come on message boards and sports talk radio. If Williams want to clear the air, he can tell everyone why Smoker is suspended.

Those rumors finally built up to a point that forced Smoker’s family to release a statement on his entry into a substance abuse program.

The vagueness of Smoker’s suspension breeds this kind of speculation from fans and the media. If Williams wants to eliminate rumors, then he should come out and say why Smoker was suspended. He isn’t helping his cause by refusing to comment.

What is worse is that Williams lacks the confidence in himself and his team that is necessary to coach. When asked whether he has lost his players, Williams said, “I don’t know.” He refused to comment on whether the Spartans are playing for next season with three games remaining on the schedule.

This kind of behavior and lack of decisiveness is what produces such a backlash from the media and fans.

When Williams was initially given the job as head coach, he was praised for being a “player’s coach,” one that could motivate and relate to his team. Now that his ability to do that is in doubt, so should be his place as coach. His players lack pride on the field and their behavior off the field is embarrassing to the program. Yesterday’s dismissal of starting tailback Dawan Moss is the latest of several incidents that are turning a black eye into a bleeding cut above the eyebrow.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr gave an emotional speech after the game, in which he said that Williams deserves more time at Michigan State.

“I think it’s very important that Bobby Williams be given the opportunity to fulfill his requirement at Michigan State University,” Carr said. “This game is about the players, trying to get an education and compete in an arena that is very competitive.”

Carr’s comments beg the question: Why give a coach another year if his players are quitting on him? Does a vote of confidence from the administration give the players a reason to fight? It is impossible to know. But it is safe to say that having Carr’s blessing isn’t going to appease the Spartans’ fans or the players.

Williams’ results and demeanor spell the end of his stint as coach. The damage that has been done to the Michigan State program is great enough to warrant his removal – and comments in favor of Williams by former Michigan State coach George Perles, Athletic Director Ron Mason or Carr shouldn’t change that.

Jeff Phillips can be reached at jpphilli@umich.edu

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