The Departure of Jonathan Smith Leaves The Future Of Oregon State Athletics In Major Flux

By T.J. Mathewson

Contributor, 750 The Game

Ten days. Ten days…… That’s all it takes for the perceived future of a football program to unravel.

A week and a half ago, many across the Beaver State had eyes on potentially two of the biggest games the program had ever played, followed by a Pac-12 Championship, followed by a New Year’s Six bowl game, and control of the Pac-12 board to build back this great conference and thrive as a quasi-independent football program until the next round of realignment. 

Ten days later…… What’s left?

The news of Jonathan Smith’s departure to Michigan State sent ripples of emotion through the fanbase, though once the news was finally announced on Saturday morning following the Beavers’ 31-7 loss to Oregon, few were surprised. ‘Niner’ had done a pretty poor job of being transparent while claiming to be committed to his current job throughout the previous week with John Canzano and again after Friday’s game. Saturday’s news has become more of a sad acceptance of the current reality.

Smith will bring plenty of baggage along with him as it’s reported that OC Brian Lindgren, RB Coach Keith Bhonapha, TE Coach Brian Wozniak, OL Coach Jim Michalczik, and DB Coach Blue Adams will join Smith in heading to East Lansing. Defensive Coordinator Trent Bray was not listed in the initial wave of departures from the OSU coaching staff. More on that later.

The word “loyalty” got thrown around so much this week in an attempt to blame the now-former Beaver coach for leaving, and I couldn’t push back on it more. For Jonathan Smith, his move to Michigan State is a no-brainer. The Spartans dwarf the Beavers in athletics’ budget, alumni donations, guaranteed television exposure, and perhaps a seat at the table in the next round of realignment that will cast aside more programs like Oregon State and prop up more like Michigan State. He and his assistants get more money at the expense of his alma mater and the “dream job” he labeled back in 2018. The promise of an eventual statue in front of Reser Stadium in 2050 and “loyalty” is not enough to anchor Smith in a place he thinks is falling apart around him.

Many will jump out to warn Jonathan about what happened to past Beaver coaches who tried to leverage this job into better opportunities. Ask Mike Riley, who departed the Beavers twice for failed jobs with the Chargers and Nebraska Cornhuskers. Ask Dennis Erickson, who said leaving Oregon State was one of his worst career decisions after spurning the Beavers for the NFL. Those same people will point to legendary OSU Baseball Coach Pat Casey, turning down every attempt to poach him from Corvallis into three national championships and elevating Beaver Baseball into the elite tier of college baseball.

Now that Jonathan Smith has chosen the two former paths as opposed to the latter, it is now up to Scott Barnes and the Oregon State Athletic Department to do as it has always done: Pick yourself up, and prove wrong all those who have left because they don’t deem it good enough.

Can they do it?

As we sit, the Beavers do not have a football schedule for next season, they do not have a TV deal for next season, and the recruiting class will most likely fall apart. It is going to be extremely difficult to convince any high-profile assistant at a Power Four university that this is the job that will be the best case for their scenario.

Now, the first call to action: Scott Barnes cannot let Trent Bray leave Corvallis if he is open to the idea of being a head coach. If Bray follows Smith to East Lansing, his salary can easily double the current $825k number he earns in Corvallis. If the Beavers can offer him $3 million or higher, you cross your fingers and hope the Beaver alum wants to stay on the West Coast and build a program to his liking. If there’s an approval rating for the future head coach of this football program, Bray would be easily the most favorable.

You also hope, with an eventual hire of Trent Bray, that you can limit the portal exodus when it opens up on December 4th. Can Trent Bray be the one to keep Aidan Chiles in Corvallis? Everyone sure hopes so, and he is the priority No. 1 on this roster, but it goes beyond that. Will DJ U come back or go to the draft? What kind of shape will the offensive line be in? All while prepping for a bowl game to be played over the next month.

Oregon State is at the crossroads of its athletics future right now. Maintaining relevance until the next round of realignment is of the utmost importance, finding a way to stay valuable to television networks and keep a national profile for recruits, prospective students, and alumni to donate their hard-earned dollars to. A good hire can mitigate this. A bad one? I don’t want to imagine.

T.J. Mathewson is an Oregon State Beavers football contributor for 750 The Game. He also covers the Beavers for KEJO 1240 in Corvallis and has work featured throughout the season here.