2018 : Former MSU Football Coach Darryl Rogers Dies

When:
July 11, 2018 all-day
2018-07-11T00:00:00-04:00
2018-07-12T00:00:00-04:00
Former Michigan State coach Darryl Rogers died at the age of 83.

Former Michigan State and Detroit Lions coach Darryl Rogers died on July 11, 2018 at the age of 83.

Rogers coached the Spartans for four seasons while winning a share of a Big Ten title in 1978.

Rogers took over Michigan State in 1976, inheriting a program on three years of probation due to NCAA violations that occurred under former coach Denny Stolz. An offensive-minded coach who elevated the Spartans’ passing game, he posted an overall record of 24-18-2 in four seasons and coached a trio of All-Americans in Gibson, tight end Mark Brammer and punter Ray Stachowicz.

The Spartans finished 4-6-1 in his first season, 7-3-1 the following year and 8-3 in 1978 as they tied Michigan for a conference title and Rogers was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. However, that was their final year of probation, which prohibited them from playing in a bowl game or on TV. After posting a 5-6 record in 1979, Rogers left to become the head coach at Arizona State, where he spent five seasons.

Despite his short tenure at MSU, Rogers is remembered fondly by his former players such as Kirk Gibson, who shared the following stories with reporters.

On a chilly January day in East Lansing just ahead of that ’78 season, Darryl walks up to me and says: “You want to be a top-five, first-round pick?’”

“And I said, sure. And he says, ‘Go out for baseball.’

“I said: How does that make me a top-five NFL pick and player?”

“And he explained.”

Rogers  was both smart enough and decent enough to appreciate two of life’s realities.

Gibson was of such excellence as an athlete Rogers knew he could play Big Ten baseball, especially after MSU’s baseball coach, Danny Litwhiler, had mentioned Gibson’s work in some earlier American Legion games when Gibson was a teen in Waterford. Gibson could help Litwhiler and, most of all, likely raise a 20-year-old’s market price if he had two sports cooking.

But even more fundamentally, the quality that spurred Rogers to offer baseball as an option was inherent in a man who, quite truthfully, remains one of the best people I’ve known in 40-plus years of covering sports.

Rogers wasn’t about to get proprietary with Gibson. There was no ownership in the head coach’s mind. There was, rather, an easy sense of stewardship he extended to everyone, every day.

Gibson quoted Rogers, who had decided spring football was going to be well, superfluous, for a player of Gibson’s celestial skills.

“I don’t want to see you in football this spring,” Gibson remembers Rogers saying. “You’ll be ready for football next fall. Play baseball and you’ll increase your leverage.”

Gibson went out for baseball. He hadn’t played seriously for a few years. He soon was slamming pitches beyond the Red Cedar River. The Tigers got him that June in the first round, with the 12th overall pick, all because they and Gibson had done an artful job convincing clubs in front that Gibson was going to play in the NFL.

In fact he was going to be the first overall pick in the ’79 draft, which was confirmed when, after he signed with the Tigers, after he had a first summer of minor-league baseball at Lakeland, Florida, he returned to East Lansing, to his teammates and to his coach, and helped the Spartans win that autumn’s Big Ten co-championship by way of individual plays that yet remain among the most remarkable dynamics some of us ever have seen on a football field.

Rogers had unleashed Gibson when he arrived in East Lansing in April of 1976, a few months after MSU had gotten all but a NCAA probation lift-sentence. Rogers had been airing it out as head coach at San Jose State and MSU’s new athletic director, Joe Kearney, who had been at the University of Washington, knew all about the coach who might bring a new brand of football to the grind-and-groan Big Ten.

Rogers spotted, on the first day of spring drills, a quarterback from Pittsburgh, Eddie Smith, who was buried on the depth chart and had been planning on transferring. Rogers asked all of his quarterbacks to line up and throw the football. He decided in a nanosecond that Smith, then a sophomore, was his new QB.

It was Smith who for the next three seasons hooked up so often with Gibson on pass plays that were straight from Cape Canaveral.

A year later, in 1979, everything was upside down. A new president, Cecil Mackey, who wasn’t from the region and who had no love for the sports sphere, had taken charge in East Lansing. Kearney and Rogers jumped together to become the new AD-football coach tandem at Arizona State.

Kirk Gibson also shared another story about Darryl Rogers that some may have forgotten.

While at Michigan State, Coach Rogers unleashed a zinger that was often repeated by MSU fans for years to come and earned him the enmity of University of Michigan fans.  It came during a an MSU football banquet when Rogers quoted one of his assistant coaches, saying of Michigan, that the Wolverines were “arrogant asses.”

Rogers meant it jocularly, for a captive MSU audience, and even if he should have known better, it wasn’t said with any venom. It was Rogers being Rogers according to Gibson.

“He had a smart-alecky way of getting his point across,” Gibson said. “There were always these great lines. Let me tell you, Darryl was a special guy. He cared about football, but he cared about you, as well.

“There are special people in your life who you want to make sure are not taken for granted,” Gibson said.

According to Gibson, Darryl Rogers was always  a supporter of me and the Spartans, and a coach and friend who he will never forget.

Local sports commentator Tim Staudt also remembers Coach Darryl Rogers fondly.   According to one of his tweets, “MSU’s greatest football offense I ever saw was the 1978 team that would have gone to the Rose Bowl but for probation. Darryl Rogers was ahead of his time with his philosophy. Great guy, one of my all time favorites at MSU because he didn’t take himself too seriously.”  Staudt also tweeted: “My last MSU radio broadcast was the game at UM in 78. Never forget him crying his eyes out as his players carried him off the field after his only win over Bo 24-15.”

Sources:

Former Michigan State, Detroit Lions coach Darryl Rogers dies at age 83“, MLive, July 11, 2108.

Lynn Henning, “Darryl Rogers left his mark with his humanity“, Detroit News, July 11, 2018.

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