Harlon Barnett said he always dreamed of being the head coach at his alma mater, Michigan State.
He just didn’t figure it would happen in this manner.
Barnett will make his debut as the interim coach when the Spartans play No. 8 Washington on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., after head coach Mel Tucker was suspended this week without pay after being accused of sexual misconduct. Tucker is facing a Title IX investigation.
“We’re on a mission,” said Barnett, who was promoted from defensive backs coach. “And we’re gonna complete this mission.”
Former head coach Mark Dantonio was named Barnett’s associate. Dantonio led the Spartans to a 114-57 record from 2007-19 and is the school’s winningest coach.
“We’re still trying to figure out his role,” athletic director Alan Haller said. “But (Dantonio) definitely will wear a headset, either on the sidelines and up in the booth, and he’ll offer his knowledge from his coaching career.”
Barnett spent 11 seasons on Dantonio’s staff.
“Coach D, that’s my guy, man,” Barnett said. “(He) brings a calming presence, the wisdom, the knowledge of being a head coach — a successful one at that.”
Barnett said he met with the team Sunday and has been trying to conduct one-on-one meetings with each of the players.
“I said, ‘Hey man, we gotta all come together in this time of adversity, and we have to be unified through the adversity.’ This is a determined group. … they’re still motivated and excited.”
The Spartans (2-0) have defeated Central Michigan 31-7 and Richmond 45-14, both at home.
Quarterback Noah Kim was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week after completing 18 of 22 passes for a career-high 292 yards and three touchdowns against the Spiders.
Facing Washington (2-0) will be a big step up in competition for the Spartans. The Huskies have one of the most explosive offenses in the country and a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Barnett said Dantonio would have a hand in figuring out how to stop the left-handed QB, who nearly led Indiana to an upset victory over the Spartans in 2019, a game in which he completed 20 consecutive passes.
“Our staff is a really good staff, elite staff, is what I told them in the meeting,” Barnett said. “… Any information and all information (Dantonio) provides, people are locked in and listening. Because we want the advantage.”
The Huskies are coming off a pair of lopsided victories, 56-19 against Boise State and 43-10 over Tulsa.
Penix has completed 57 of 78 passes for 859 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.
The Huskies faced a similar situation to Saturday’s game last season, traveling to Arizona State after Herm Edwards was fired as coach and replaced by Shaun Aguano on an interim basis. No. 21 Washington took a 45-38 loss that day.
“It might come up, but I really am feeling like you don’t make a big deal of it because it’s going to be about the 100-plus guys that they have on their team that are wanting to do something special,” Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer said. “They’re going to be playing at home trying to go 3-0 in an environment as I’ve heard a couple times now today is hostile. It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere.”
–Field Level Media