No, Michigan State Isn’t Seriously Auditioning Harlon Barnett For Permanent Head Football Coach Job
Harlon Barnett was personable yet serious in his first press conference as MSU football's interim head coach earlier this week, putting on full display the genial personality he's so well-known for, while also showing due respect to the gravity of the situation.
He said all the right things, but, more than that, he was genuine. His answers were real, not polished or coached-up by a PR team.
“I'm being totally honest here," Barnett said at one point. "I wanted to be the head coach of Michigan State, but not in this way, obviously.
"I’m a Spartan through and through. Anybody that knows me knows that I am a Spartan. They will tell you that, that it’s green all day. I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to be the head coach here — again, not liking the circumstances."
Barnett was exactly what MSU needed in the immediate wake of Mel Tucker's sexual harassment scandal-induced suspension. One of Spartan football's own stepping taking the reins at a critical juncture, appealing as authentic, humbled by the moment, and driven to succeed.
Barnett only got one thing wrong in his debut on Tuesday, when responding to a reporter who asked him if he felt like his run as interim head coach for State the rest of the season functions as an audition for the permanent job.
"It's set up that way," he said.
Make no mistake, this is not an actual tryout. Despite Barnett's status as one of MSU's favorite sons, and his being beloved by the players, he simply isn't qualified.
First of all, the guy's performance lately has made him deserving of dismissal, not promotion. Since he returned to MSU three seasons ago, Barnett has coached defensive backs who have comprised three of the worst pass defenses in the country and perhaps the three worst in the history of this program.
The most obvious problem with Barnett's resume, though, is that it's conspicuously thin without Mark Dantonio. Barnett's reputation as a coach owes itself completely to the No Fly Zone secondary he worked with during his first run at MSU, which lasted from 2007 to 2014. When he fledged the nest and no longer had the security and safety of Dantonio's guiding hand, Barnett failed. He was hired as Florida State's defensive coordinator in 2018, lasting just two seasons.
Barnett's defenses at FSU ranked 80th and 90th nationally over those two years, including 120th and 119th against the pass. Sound familiar?
His lack of head coaching experience is also disqualifying. And by the way, the guy has been an assistant coach in college football for 20 years — there's a reason he's never gotten a shot.
Even if Barnett is able to keep these players together and get the absolute most out of them to the tune of something like a 9-3 record, he still shouldn't get the job. We've already outlined why, but there's also a mountain of evidence showing that giving the interim guy the permanent job almost never works out.
And if at the conclusion of the season State's players demand Barnett be retained as the permanent coach going forward under threat of mutiny, MSU should let them walk. You can't let your players make personnel decisions. That's what the old people in suits with fancy titles and big salaries are for. When you let players dictate who the coach should be, you end up with disaster hires that set the program back years, like Bobby Williams.
When Michigan State hires its next permanent head football coach, it will be the biggest move to date in the long history of this program. If the people in charge at MSU get it right, Spartan football will be positioned to contend in a bigger, better Big Ten and in the uncharted waters of new-age college football.
But if this is another botched hire, MSU will be left in the dust at the worst possible time.