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Michigan State football: 5 best-case scenario head coaching candidates if Mel Tucker is fired

These are my ideal candidates.



Michigan State football
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s been quite the weekend for Michigan State football and fans are now looking ahead to potential coaching replacements.

While it’s still a touchy subject and I don’t want to harp on the specifics of the Mel Tucker situation, Michigan State football fans need to prepare for another coaching search.

Nothing will be official until the Title IX investigation wraps up and has its day in court in about four weeks, but Michigan State will likely be looking for a new head coach in early October. The search will probably start immediately with Alan Haller and the athletic department compiling a list of names right away but a hire likely wouldn’t be made until the end of the year.

If Tucker is fired next month, here’s who I would love to see the program hire.

5. Courtney Hawkins, Michigan State WRs coach

I considered putting someone like Jim Leonhard in this spot (I think he would also be a great hire) or guys like Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith or Duke’s Mike Elko. But Courtney Hawkins is a guy who I believe needs to be on the staff. He’s one of the best wide receivers coaches in the country and he is an elite developer of talent, as we’ve seen. And players love him.

But I get the other side of this debate. He’s never been a head coach and he’s probably not ready after just three-plus years as a receivers coach at the college level. Still, I wouldn’t mind Hawkins leading this program and I would trust him to make the right hires.

People in the coaching industry like Hawkins. And he’s a good recruiter.

4. Alex Atkins, Florida State OC

This is a name that many people may not know, but he’s a budding star in the coaching world. Alex Atkins has been the Florida State offensive coordinator over the past two seasons and in 2022, he led the ACC’s best offense — the Seminoles were near the bottom of the ACC the year prior. To start the 2023 season, the Seminoles are putting up a ton of points again and that offense is electric.

Forget the fact that his program landed Keon Coleman (we won’t mention that name again), but he’s been able to utilize the Spartan receiver transfer. He’s been one of the best receivers in the country to start the year and Atkins has made sure to make him a focal point.

Atkins has an explosive offense and an imaginative offensive mind and there’s a reason he’s considered a rising star. Plus, he’s under the age of 40 and he could be the face of the program for a while. Who would say no to a more explosive offense and better recruiting?

3. Chris Klieman, Kansas State HC

The oldest coaching candidate I have on my list is Kansas State’s Chris Klieman. To me, he’d be a perfect fit for Michigan State football. He had unprecedented success at North Dakota State at the FCS level, winning four national titles in five years, before getting hired at Kansas State in 2019.

All he’s done at Kansas State since being hired is have success, outside of the 2020 season.

Klieman’s Wildcats are coming off a Big 12 title season and Kansas State is one of the best teams in the conference again. And they will be as long as he’s there. Plus, he just landed his best recruiting class and as long as he keeps winning, those classes will keep getting better.

The 55-year-old head coach from Iowa could be a great fit in East Lansing.

2. Brian Hartline, Ohio State OC

After a strong seven-year NFL career, Brian Hartline returned to his alma mater to join the Ohio State coaching staff in 2017 as an offensive quality control assistant. It didn’t take him long to earn a promotion from Urban Meyer, getting bumped up to receivers coach in 2018 and he was named Ryan Day’s offensive coordinator before the 2023 season. He’s a fast-riser and a superstar assistant.

Not only is Hartline a young coach who would be a great addition for the long-term, he’s an elite recruiter and a proven winner. Plus, he knows the Big Ten well. Could you imagine him recruiting at an elite level in East Lansing and finally bringing big-time talent to Michigan State football? It would be electric.

A lot of program are going to be fighting to land Hartline in the offseason, so why not Michigan State?

1. Deion Sanders, Colorado HC

Would Deion Sanders come to Michigan State? It all depends on what he’s looking for. If he wants to lead a program that has proven success at a high level over the past 15 years, Michigan State would be an attractive destination. Also, if he wants a program that can pay him almost double what he makes now, I could see him jumping ship. His salary at Colorado right now is $5.5 million. If he expressed even the slightest interest, Michigan State could add a couple million to that number.

Outside of his potential interest and salary numbers, I believe that Sanders it the top up-and-comer in the FBS. He’s the best rising star out there and all he’s done is prove it through two games at a program that won a single game last year.

Sanders would make MSU a winner again and he’s an elite recruiter. The excitement would 100 percent return with this hire.

Writer, co-owner of Spartan Shadows. Michigan State and college football expert at FanSided and formerly of The Detroit News. Expert on all things Michigan State. Connor Muldowney has written about Michigan State since graduating from the university with a degree in journalism back in 2013. Ten years of experience as a Michigan State writer/reporter.