Former Michigan State football head coach Denny Stolz passed away Thursday at 89, according to the university.
Stolz took over after legendary coach Duffy Daugherty retired in 1972 and led the program for three seasons. The Spartans were 19-13-1 in his time as head coach from 1973-75.
In his second season, Stolz was named Big Ten Coach of the Year as the Spartans finished 6-1-1 in conference play.
Stolz is a native of Mason and graduated from Alma College in 1955. He played both football and baseball for Alma and eventually became the football team’s head coach before coming to MSU.
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In total, Stolz was a head coach at the college level for 21 seasons.
Stolz’s time in East Lansing ended when he was asked to resign by the university following the program receiving three years of NCAA probation — including bowl and TV bans — over nearly three dozen counts of recruiting nd fund-raising violations. The NCAA singled out several of Stolz’s assistant coaches and ruled seven players ineligible for the 1976 season, but the organization repeatedly cleared Stolz of any blame following the investigation.
Stolz resigned on March 16, 1976, a few weeks after the NCAA handed down its punishment, as MSU opted to clean house. Stolz took responsibility for the violations while maintaining his innocence in his letter of resignation:
“I have concluded the ultimate responsibility for violations found by the NCAA, during the time I was head coach, while involving no personal fault on my part, either in allegation or finding, must be mine. …
“I am also hopeful that my resignation can lead to an early conclusion of the Big Ten investigation, which has not made any formal charges against me personally, and with which investigation I have co-operated fully.”
Stolz had a lasting impact on the Spartans’ baseball team as well as their football squad: One of his final recruiting successes was Waterford Kettering receiver Kirk Gibson, who caught nine passes for 262 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in Stolz’s final season. Gibson later became an All-American wide receiver at MSU, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017. (Gibson was advised to join the MSU baseball team by Stolz’s successor, Darryl Rogers, which led to a 17-season MLB career, spent mostly with his hometown Detroit Tigers.)
After leaving Michigan State, Stolz headed south and led Bowling Green from 1977-85; there, he went 56-45-1 and won two MAC titles. He ended his career with San Diego State, finishing 16-19 in three seasons while guiding the team to an appearance in the 1986 Holiday Bowl.
Stolz was inducted into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and spent time around the Michigan State football program for years.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Stolz and his family,” former Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “I got to know Denny over the years as head coach and always enjoyed our time together. I invited him to practices and he attended games for many years at Spartan Stadium. He really enjoyed seeing his former players at our golf outings. He was a true Spartan.”
Free Press sports writer Ryan Ford contributed to this report.