Posted on: Thursday, December 2, 2004
By Ferd Lewis
"Have you been there (to Hawai'i)? It's a miserable trip. It's forever. Eleven hours. That's just to get there. Then, you've got to acclimate and play a game."
"It's such a lovely trip (to Hawai'i). It's like a reoccurring bad dream."
John L. Smith, Michigan State football coach, at his weekly press conference.
Well, a-l-o-h-a to you, too, coach.
And, speaking of bah, humbug, what are football coaches doing serving on the NCAA women's volleyball postseason selection committee, anyway?
The truth of the matter, however, isn't that Smith hates Hawai'i and all he'll find here. He has nothing against blue skies, pristine beaches or pineapple. He just hates to be here the first week of December. Especially this one.
Where he wants to be and, indeed, needs to be, is back in the Midwest in the living room of a linebacker in Ypsilanti or a safety in Saginaw because that is where Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are right now.
Monday marked the shotgun start on recruiting, the point where recruiters could go into the homes and schools of recruits. And while the Wolverines, Buckeyes and Hawkeyes are combing the Midwest for blue chippers and securing verbal commitments, John L. and his staff are 4,400 miles away in Hawai'i.
Recruiting is something Smith and his staff have done exceedingly well wherever he's been Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, etc. and at a time when they need to be on the recruiting trail, here they are bemoaning a schedule that was put in place before their arrival two years ago.
Potentially, that's not the worst of it, either. Worse would be if the 5-6 Spartans, as touchdown favorites, lost to UH on ESPN Saturday night. Try telling a quarterback in Quinnesec how you're turning things around at MSU after he's just seen you lose to the Warriors. Try selling the alumni on how you've got the program pointed in the right direction then. ...
Smith landed in East Lansing as an outsider an import to the school and the region and a curious choice after a six-week search process that was greeted with skepticism.
Last month, the Spartans knocked off then-unbeaten and fourth-ranked Wisconsin. Then came the punchless, head-shaking loss to Penn State.
So, finishing this season with a loss at UH isn't the way to show progress in a season that began with a defeat at Rutgers. And, let's face it, there is a premium being put on progress these days as Smith's brethren, Tyrone Willingham (Notre Dame), Buddy Tevens (Stanford) and Gary Crowton (BYU), were all reminded of in the past 48 hours.
Smith will begin his third season at MSU in 2005 and while, up until two weeks ago, he'd hoped that might be by coming off a bowl appearance, he definitely doesn't want it to be with a hangover from a 5-7 season that included four losses in the final five games.
So, Hawai'i isn't paradise for Smith, not this December, anyway.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.