Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi departs for job

Published 6:18 am Wednesday, December 13, 2023

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MINNEAPOLIS  — Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has accepted the same job at Michigan State under new coach Jonathan Smith, according to a person with knowledge of the move.

The person confirmed Rossi’s departure to The Associated Press on Monday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Michigan State had not yet announced the hire.

Rossi had been in the role at Minnesota for five-plus seasons. His salary in 2023 was $1.1 million in the first year of a three-year contract that included a $330,000 buyout Rossi will owe Minnesota for the early departure.

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Michigan State (4-8) did not qualify for a bowl game this season. Minnesota (5-7) will play Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26, when co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Nick Monroe would be the natural promotion to fill Rossi’s role. Monroe is in his first year with his home-state school after seven seasons as an assistant at Syracuse. Rossi’s listing on the coaching roster on Minnesota’s website had already been removed on Monday.

This is the third time in five years that Gophers coach P.J. Fleck had a coordinator leave for the same role at another Big Ten team. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca did so twice, to Penn State in 2020 and to Rutgers in 2023 after he’d returned to Minnesota for 2022.

The 44-year-old Rossi was on Fleck’s first staff at the school in 2017 as a quality control assistant. He was promoted the following year to defensive line coach and again to defensive coordinator on Nov. 4, 2018 when Robb Smith was fired following a 55-31 loss at Illinois. The Gophers allowed an average of less than 15 points over their final four games that season, and Rossi had the interim tag removed.

He was nominee in 2021 for the Broyles Award, given annually to the the most outstanding assistant coach in college football in the country. The Gophers were third-best in the FBS in yards allowed and sixth-best in points allowed in 2021 and ninth and fourth, respectively, in 2022. This year, they slipped in those rankings to 60th and 71st, with injuries at linebacker and departures to the NFL at defensive back affecting them all season.

The Gophers have had 10 defensive players drafted since Rossi became defensive coordinator, including safety Jordan Howden (fifth round, New Orleans) and cornerback Terell Smith (fifth round, Chicago) in 2023. Defensive end Boye Mafe (Seattle, 2022) and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (Tampa Bay, 2020) were both second-round picks.

Rossi, a native of Pittsburgh, was the defensive coordinator at Rutgers for two of his four seasons (2014-15) there. He spent three of his five seasons (2009-11) in the FCS at Maine as defensive coordinator.

Smith was hired by the Spartans on Nov. 25. He announced last week the hiring of six assistants, including Blue Adams (secondary) and Legi Suiaunoa (defensive line) on the defensive side.