Spartans to play for pride against PSU
EAST LANSING, Mich. - John L. Smith said goodbye to the local media but not to football coaching in his final Monday press conference at Michigan State.
If he can't do much about a 22-25 mark that ended his four-year stay with the Spartans, Smith can pick up his playbooks and take a 132-85 career record to another campus.
"This is the first time we haven't been able to turn it around," Smith said of his rebuilding efforts. "So you have to feel bad. How bad on a scale• I don't know, having never been there before."
Michigan State (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten) can feel good about something that hasn't happened in 41 years, since Joe Paterno's last season as a Penn State assistant, if it can win on Saturday in Happy Valley.
An upset of the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) would be a great parting gift for Smith's seniors and encouragement for the players returning in 2007.
"We're going to do it right," Smith said. "Those kids are going to prepare the best they can because they're character kids. ... We want them to go out and play for themselves and their own pride. That's pretty much it."
Smith refused to reminisce or blame anyone else for what went wrong after a 3-0 start and a 37-21 lead over Notre Dame disappeared like the wreckage of the Titanic.
"Let's talk about something important," Smith said before discussing the health of senior quarterback Drew Stanton, who suffered a helmet-caving head injury in last week's 31-18 loss to Minnesota. "Drew wasn't great yesterday. He hasn't been cleared yet. So we'll prepare (backup Brian) Hoyer as the starter and see what transpires."
Stanton will undergo tests to determine the severity of Saturday's dizziness and Sunday's headaches, the latest in a long list of ailments he has had to overcome.
"If he can't go, it'd be disappointing because he's your guy and you've been with him for so long," Smith said. "But if there's any question about his health and whether he's recovered, he's not going to play."
Michigan State will be playing a team that has won three of its past four, including Saturday's 47-0 non-league victory over Temple. The Nittany Lions' lone loss in the last month was a 13-3 defeat at once-beaten Wisconsin.
"It's on to Happy Valley!" Smith said. "Looking at those guys, not a lot of complicated things, maybe a little bit more two-back than we've seen recently. But they keep it pretty simple. They just recruit good kids and say, 'Come and beat us.'"
The Spartans have beaten themselves several times in Smith's tenure with untimely turnovers, dropped passes, penalties and missed assignments. But that wasn't the focus Monday.
"Let's finish it right," Smith said. "Then, we'll have a banquet, and we can hug and say goodbye. That's part of life. We'll all move on. The seniors have to go. The other guys will stay and play for whoever the new coach will be."
Smith said several 2007 recruits have called to wish him well and that his staff of assistants, except offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin and defensive coordinator Chris Smeland, will remain on the job and continue recruiting until a new head coach is named.