It’s certainly an odd twist on the whole “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” theme.
If you take a fan vote on the most embarrassing losses in Michigan State football history, you can bet the three losses to their upstart neighbor to the north, Central Michigan, have a fair chance of finishing atop the leaderboard.
A former quarterback for the Spartans, and the last man to lead MSU to a share of a Big Ten title, Dan Enos was on the sidelines for all three.
As a graduate assistant, just a year removed from playing, Enos watched CMU leave Spartan Stadium with a 20-3 win in the 2001 home opener, then follow it up with a humiliating, 24-20 win the next year.
This year, the Chippewas came to East Lansing, and left with a last-second, 29-27 victory just hours after Enos’ boss, Mark Dantonio, was given a contract extension.
As it probably will be when Enos, the man tabbed Tuesday to take over as the head coach of CMU’s football team, leads the Chippewas against his alma mater in the “Celebrate the State” series of games, including a home-and-home the next two seasons.
“Thanks for reminding me of that day in East Lansing. That was a long day. As my wife told me last night, after we graciously accepted this offer, things happen for a reason. Maybe they needed that win, so Coach (Butch Jones) could get another job, and I could get an opportunity to come here,” Enos joked at his introductory news conference Tuesday. “I know how grouchy I was for the next four, five or six weeks after that, so if it did help, I don’t know.”
It certainly set the two teams on different paths.
While CMU went on to claim its third Mid-American Conference title in four years and its first-ever Top 25 ranking, a thrilling GMAC Bowl win giving the program it’s first-ever 12-win season, MSU limped to a controversy-ridden 6-7 finish.
And you could argue that the Spartans’ losses didn’t end with the Alamo Bowl, especially given the news this week that they’re losing their best recruiter.
Much has been made of MSU’s ability to win the in-state recruiting battles with the University of Michigan of late, and much of that credit goes to Enos. Just a position coach for the Spartans — in charge of running backs for the last three seasons — Enos’ value wasn’t necessarily in how he was coaching, but rather what players he was getting to coach.
Last year, he landed four-star backs Larry Caper and Edwin Baker (Oak Park), and four-star tight end Dion Sims (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s) among others. This year, Enos helped land one of the state’s top two quarterbacks, Joe Boisture of Saline.
And THAT, my friends, is why Enos was the hire over current (or, I guess, former) CMU offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, and Illinois DBs coach Curt Mallory.
It won’t be X’s and O’s that keep CMU on top of the MAC and in the discussion as a potential BCS buster, it’ll be Dions and Joes.
Enos has proven he can deliver on February’s signing day, making his contribution every bit as valuable than input he might add to the play-calling in September.
Questions came up at Tuesday’s press conference about Enos’ resume, and why a position coach was qualified to make the jump to head coach (nevermind that Jones was the wide receivers coach at West Virginia when he was tabbed to succeed Brian Kelly at CMU three years ago), and I’m sure those questions will continue.
But it speaks volumes about Enos’ value that Spartans fans today seem more angry to lose him than CMU fans seemed happy to gain him.
He’s not a big name, but he is a salesman.
And that fit is why he fits perfectly into the “right person, right time” philosophy of hiring employed by CMU athletic director Dave Heeke — the man behind who put a stories-high billboard of Joey Harrington in New York City for a Heisman campaign, and CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour on a similarly-gargantuan billboard outside Ford Field in Detroit.
At this point, to complete the transition from Kelly to Jones to Enos, the Chippewas need another salesman, like they two they had before.
When Kelly — the snake-oil salesman — came in to Mount Pleasant in 2004, he sold a dream of what could be, in an effort to change a culture of losing. Jones came in and sold solidity and stability.
Now — if CMU wants to truly be mentioned in the same vein as the Boise States, TCUs and Utahs of the world — Enos has to sell another level of athlete on coming to what — a fact’s a fact — is not exactly the most metropolitan of areas. He’s got to continue to sell the idea to players across Southeast Michigan — as Kelly and Jones both did — that going out of state isn’t necessarily their best option, if they’re not going to end up at MSU or U-M, as well as sell Florida kids that snow isn’t scary.
He also has to sell the fans that the world isn’t going to end without the record-setting LeFevour, who is finally graduating. As Enos himself mentioned, the most successful programs in the MAC have been the ones with the best quarterback — be it Chad Pennington or Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger or Nate Davis. Problem is, most of those programs haven’t sustained it after the QB left.
Without Davis, Ball State went 2-10 last season — not a real hard thing to figure out why former coach Brady Hoke bailed before the season, making a lateral move to a job at San Diego State.
Lots of wags have insinuated that’s why Jones left CMU now, too — get out while the getting’s good.
It remains to be seen how well they’ll replace LeFevour, but least Enos doesn’t seem like he’s going to scrap what’s worked for CMU.
“We will adapt to the personnel that we’re dealing with, and build offensive and defensive schemes around who we have. We are not going to come in with our egos so big that we’re going to tell someone ‘You don’t fit our system,’ ” said Enos, promising the wide-open, exciting offense Heeke noted has become CMU’s brand. “I’m a quarterback, so I like to throw the ball. When I was at Michigan State, I had to hand it off way too much. I think that demented me for life, so as a coach, I like to throw it.”
That should sell plenty of tickets, too.
Labels: Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, Dan Enos, Dan LeFevour, Dave Heeke