With three games remaining in another disappointing season, Michigan State has decided that John L. Smith will not return to coach the 2007 season.
The university made the announcement at a Wednesday news conference on campus.
Smith will coach the Spartans through the end of this season, including a bowl game. Michigan State, 4-5 this season, must win two of its three remaining games against Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State, to qualify for a postseason invitation.
"The performance on the field has not lived up to what we hoped it would be," athletic director Ron Mason said during the news conference. "It comes time to make a change, and that's where we're at."
The university will buy out the remaining two years on his contract. His annual salary is $1.35 million. However, Smith's buyout clause is $1.5 million.
"Coach Smith deserves to coach the rest of this season because he will coach with his heart, just like he always has," Joel Ferguson, Vice Chairperson of Michigan State's Board of Trustees, told ESPN's Joe Schad. "We have respect for him and we hope he takes us to a bowl game. What we need here is more players. What we need is better recruits. We don't make excuses. What we need is more depth and more players."
Smith has been under pressure at Michigan State. School officials gave him a vote of confidence after last season's losing campaign, but were looking for better results in 2006.
Mason and university president Lou Anna Simon said they reached the decision to make a change Tuesday. Mason met with Smith on Wednesday, and the coach agreed to stay on the rest of the season.
Part of the reason behind the timing of the announcement was so Michigan State can search for a new coach with transparency, Mason said.
Smith turned around a moribund program in 2003, his first season, taking the Spartans to an 8-5 record and an Alamo Bowl berth. However, that has been his only winning season. His last three teams have been dogged by inconsistency. The Spartans record under Smith is 22-23, including 0-4 marks against Michigan and Ohio State.
The Spartans started the 2006 season 3-0 under Smith, but have gone just 1-5 since. That slump started with a 40-37 loss to Notre Dame on Sep. 23 in which Michigan State squandered a 16-point fourth quarter lead.
That was followed by a 23-20 homecoming loss on Sept. 30 to Illinois, a team that had not won a Big Ten game since 2004. Blowout losses to conference powers Michigan and Ohio State came next before the Spartans posted the biggest comeback in Division I-A history in a 41-38 win at Northwestern on Oct. 21, a game they trailed 38-3 in the third quarter.
Most recently, the Spartans were drubbed 46-21 at Indiana last Saturday, dropping the team to 1-4 in the Big Ten. Michigan State took a 7-0 lead before the Hoosiers scored 46 consecutive points.
Smith spoke with reporters after practice Wednesday for less than five minutes. He didn't answer questions about the problems with the program, but focused on what he wanted to accomplish in the next three games.
"If we prepare as hard as hard as we can, and play as hard as we can, hopefully we can be rewarded with a bowl game," Smith said. "It would be a heck of a going away party."
The Spartans host Purdue on Saturday. They finish the season at home against Minnesota and on the road at Penn State.
Prior to coaching at Michigan State, Smith was at Louisville.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said he spoke with Smith twice this week, he told ESPN.com's Pat Forde. Despite their jarring parting -- literally during the 2002 GMAC Bowl -- the two have remained cordial.
"I want our people to remember what a great job he did here, Jurich said, ironically on the eve of the kind of game Smith wasn't sure was possible at Louisville, as the Cardinals prepare to play West Virginia in a game with major BCS implications.
"I have total gratitude to him," Jurich added. "He did a marvelous job picking this program up from 1-10 the year before, taking us to a bowl and electrifying the fans with his style of play. I'm very loyal to him."
Smith has a 132-83 record in 18 seasons as a college head coach.
Smith, who also coached at Utah State and Idaho, took over a Michigan State program that has rarely contended for a Big Ten championship since the late 1960s. The Spartans last went to the Rose Bowl after the 1987 season and haven't won a share of the Big Ten title since finishing in a four-way tie in 1990.
The decision comes nearly four years to the day after Michigan State fired Bobby Williams with three games left in a season that was disappointing on and off the field.
Smith, an Idaho native who often wore cowboy boots, was sometimes too honest and animated for his own good -- at least when his team wasn't winning.
He slapped himself during a press conference after the Illinois loss, a scene replayed on national sports highlight shows. Few understood it was a reference to the previous week's loss to Notre Dame, when Irish coach Charlie Weis said he was slapped during a sideline incident.
But Smith's critics noted that the self-slap made it clear he himself hadn't gotten over the Notre Dame loss.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.