Smith, 44, completed the regular season Friday night as No. 16 Oregon State fell to rival Oregon 31-7 on the road, dropping to 8-4 on the season. A source tells ESPN that Smith met with the Beavers’ team late Saturday morning to inform them of his decision to leave for Michigan State.
“As I start this next chapter of my coaching career, I want to first thank all the players, coaches and colleagues I have worked with the last six years,” Smith said in a statement Saturday. “I will cherish the memories and friendships. I also wanted to express my deepest gratitude to the people of OSU/Corvallis for your support. When I first arrived as a freshman college student, I had no idea the opportunities and relationships this community would provide for me and my family. The collective impact you have made makes it impossible for me to thank everyone individually, but I am forever grateful.”
The former Beavers quarterback finishes 34-35 in six seasons at his alma mater, but 18-7 since the start of the 2022 campaign. He shared Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors with Washington‘s Kalen DeBoer in 2022, when Oregon State went 10-3 and finished No. 17 nationally.
A new era of Spartan Football is here!
Please welcome Jonathan Smith as the 26th Head Coach in program history.
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) November 25, 2023
“Jonathan has a proven track record of success, building the Oregon State program from the ground up by implementing a plan resulting in sustained historic success for the Beavers,” Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller said in a statement. “He’s been a part of championship staffs, coached in the College Football playoff, and understands what’s required to be successful at the highest level, learning from some of the game’s most successful coaches. On the field, his teams are tough and physical, yet innovative. This year, Oregon State has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, ranking among the nation’s leaders in both rushing offense and rushing defense.”
Smith’s hire is pending approval by Michigan State’s board of trustees, and he is expected to be introduced early next week.
Michigan State fired coach Mel Tucker for cause Sept. 27 after suspending him earlier in the month. The university had investigated Tucker, the Spartans’ coach since 2020, after a sexual misconduct claim was brought against him by Brenda Tracy, a sexual assault awareness speaker who had spoken to the MSU team. Tucker, who has nearly $79 million remaining on the record contract he received in late 2021, has taken steps to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Secondary coach Harlon Barnett took over as interim coach, and the Spartans finished the season 4-8 after Friday’s 42-0 loss to No. 11 Penn State at Detroit’s Ford Field.
The school considered several FBS head coaches to replace Tucker before homing in on Smith early last week, sources said. Smith is viewed as having similar qualities to former MSU coach Mark Dantonio, a strong talent developer who had the Spartans competing with bigger brands in the Big Ten and had six AP top-15 finishes and a CFP appearance from 2010 to 2017.
Smith, who joined Oregon State as a walk-on and quarterbacked the team to 11 wins and a No. 4 finish in 2000, returned to his alma mater after four seasons as Washington’s offensive coordinator under Chris Petersen. He helped the Huskies to a CFP appearance in 2016, and also made stops at Boise State, Montana and Idaho. The California native has never coached outside the Northwest, although the Big Ten is expanding to the area in 2024 with Washington and Oregon joining (along with USC and UCLA).
“He’s shown not only the ability to recruit talented student-athletes who fit his system, but also to develop and maximize players once they’re in the program,” Haller said. “At his core, he’s a quarterbacks coach, and throughout his career he’s been instrumental in the development of young quarterbacks, which is essential in today’s college football landscape.”
Smith is the second coach to be hired in this cycle, following Northwestern‘s promotion of interim coach David Braun to the permanent role.