The 2000 season marked the beginning of a new era in Michigan State football history as Bobby Williams took over the Spartan program. Amidst a groundswell of support from his colleagues, alumni, fans, players and the entire university community, the 43-year-old St. Louis native became the 21st head football coach at Michigan State on Dec. 5, 1999.
In 2001, Williams produced a 7-5 record, including a 44-35 victory over No. 20 Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic, and became the first head coach in Spartan football history to win his first two bowl games.
Michigan State got off to a quick start in 2001, winning five of its first seven games, including its fifth-straight win over Notre Dame (17-10), its first victory over Wisconsin (42-23) in Madison since 1991 and a dramatic last-second triumph over sixth-ranked Michigan (26-24). Following its upset win over the Wolverines on the game’s final play, Michigan State vaulted into the national polls, ranking No. 22 by the Associated Press and No. 23 by USA Today/ESPN. The Spartans were decimated by injuries during the second half of the Big Ten schedule, with 10 starters sidelined for a combined total of 58 games.
“I’m really proud of the way the team stayed together and competed in 2001,” Williams said. “The team had its share of tough breaks along the way, especially the rash of season-ending injuries, but the players hung together and made no excuses. These guys showed a lot of competitive will. With all of the injuries, a lot of young guys gained valuable playing experience.
“We finished the 2001 season on a positive note with a solid performance against Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic. I’m excited about this football program and the direction it’s headed.”
In his first full season as head coach, Williams compiled a 5-6 record against one of the nation’s most demanding schedules (ranked No. 20 by the NCAA). Michigan State’s 11 regular-season opponents had a combined winning percentage of .583 (67-48), including seven bowl teams – Marshall (Motor City), Notre Dame (Fiesta), Northwestern (Alamo), Wisconsin (Sun), Michigan (Citrus), Ohio State (Outback) and Purdue (Rose).
The Spartans opened the 2000 season with three straight wins, including a 27-21 come-from-behind triumph over No. 16 Notre Dame, and climbed to No. 15 in the USA Today/ESPN Poll. Michigan State closed out its home schedule with a bang by knocking off No. 9 Purdue, 30-10 – its second win over a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) team.
In his first two full seasons, Williams has compiled a 13-11 overall record (.542), including a 6-3 mark (.667) against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
Since taking over the football program, Williams has helped attract three top 20 recruiting classes to East Lansing, Mich. In 2000, he put together a recruiting class that experts considered to be Michigan State’s best in 20 years, with PrepStar ranking it No. 2 in the nation and Tom Lemming’s Prep Football Report No. 6. Williams, the Spartans’ running backs coach for 10 years and associate head coach for one year, made his head coaching debut on Jan. 1, 2000, as he led Michigan State to a 37-34 victory over No. 10 Florida in the Florida Citrus Bowl. The Spartans finished the 1999 season with a 10-2 overall record and ranked No. 7 in the final polls.
“This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime,” Williams said at the press conference announcing his appointment. “I have received tremendous support from the administration, faculty, players, coaches, student body and the entire community. This move adds some stability to the program and I feel this football program is ready to take the next step, which is competing for championships.”
“Clearly, we concluded Bobby Williams has the leadership capacity for the job,” MSU President Peter McPherson said. “And it was very evident during the process that our conclusion was shared by many who expressed their strong support for Bobby as a leader, a manager and a sound football tactician. Bobby’s selection signals stability, unity, continuity and great promise.”
Williams was elevated to the position of associate head coach prior to the 1999 campaign while retaining his duties with the running backs.
He first joined the Spartan staff May 31, 1990, as running backs coach. That fall the Spartans were Big Ten co-champions and defeated Southern Cal in the John Hancock Bowl, the first of six bowl games Michigan State would reach in Williams’ 11 years with the program.
During his stint with Michigan State’s running backs, Williams coached seven 1,000-yard rushers including Sedrick Irvin, who in 1998 became the first Spartan in school history to reach the rushing milestone in each of his first three seasons. He also tutored Tico Duckett, who recorded three-straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1990-92, and Marc Renaud, who hit four digits in ’95.
Prior to his arrival in East Lansing, Williams spent four months as receivers coach under Glen Mason at Kansas (1990).
He previously served as offensive backfield coach for five years at Eastern Michigan (1985-89). Williams handled the additional duties of administrative assistant in 1989. During his stint at Eastern Michigan, the Eagles won the ’87 Mid-American Conference title and defeated San Jose State, 30-27, in the California Raisin Bowl. The Eagles finished second in the MAC standings in ’88 and ’89.
His first full-time coaching assignment came at Ball State where he worked with the running backs in 1983 and the defensive backs in ’84. Williams served as a graduate assistant coach under Leon Burtnett at Purdue in 1982, working with the defensive backs.
Williams was a four-year letterman for Coach Jim Young at Purdue and served as a tri-captain as a senior in 1981. He helped the Boilermakers to a combined record of 38-19-1 (.664) during his five years with the program, including victories in the 1978 Peach, ’79 Bluebonnet and ’80 Liberty Bowls.
Williams began his college career as a running back and ranked as the team’s second-leading rusher with 362 yards (99 attempts) as a freshman in ’77 before becoming a three-year starter in the defensive secondary. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 1980, he had eight career interceptions and 172 tackles.
Williams was an all-state running back at Sumner High School in 1976.
Born Nov. 21, 1958, in St. Louis, Bobby and his wife, Sheila, are the parents of two children, Nataly (14) and Nicholas (11).
THE WILLIAMS FILE
YEARS AT MICHIGAN STATE
PREVIOUS COACHING EXPERIENCE
Williams’ Career Record Overall Record Conference Record School Year W L Pct. W L Pct. Finish Bowl (Opponent/MSU Result) Michigan State 1999 1 0 1.000 0 0 .000 — Citrus (Florida/W 37-34) Michigan State 2000 5 6 .455 2 6 .250 t-9th Michigan State 2001 7 5 .583 3 5 .375 t-8th Silicon Valley (Fresno State/W 44-35) Totals 13 11 .542 5 11 .313
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