90 wins in ten seasons, three Big Ten Championships (a school record), nine consecutive bowl appearances, with four wins (both school records) and an appearance in the 2015 College Football Playoff…congratulations.
ONE season of 3-9, finish 5th out of six teams in the Big Ten East, and tied for 13th of 14 teams in the Big Ten Conference, no Big Ten Championship, no bowl game…SOUND THE ALARMS!
Mark Dantonio’s resume should speak for itself; given the body of work, 2016 should appear as a fluke. But in the age of “what have you done for me lately,” we all know that any slip-up can be costly.
“I think people need to keep things in perspective,” Dantonio told Spartan Nation exclusively in an exhaustive interview. “You try not to overreact, you try to make good assessments of people and situations in your life, and not to fly off the end of things.”
Yes, 2016 was a clunker for Michigan State. Yes, not going to a bowl game is bitterly disappointing. And yes, it’s natural to want to see change when something fails - when you become accustomed to success, any elements of failure begin to shake even the most stable foundations. It takes years to be considered a “winner”…it takes just moments to branded a “loser.”
BUT…maybe it’s not time to engage DEFCON 1 just yet.
“There’s a lot to think about,” said Dantonio. “Football hangs by a thread a lot. It hangs by the inches. The ball’s not shaped perfectly round, and that’s a little bit the way life is.”
In our conversation with Dantonio we referenced a comment from a fan, a factory worker. His claim was that in a factory setting, those who do not meet their expected productivity are fired. The factory worker questioned why no one on Dantonio’s staff would be subject to the same consequence when the team did not succeed.
“Well, I would like to think if that guy was supposed to make 500 cars every single year, made a thousand for the last five years, and if he made 200 for one year, they’d give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Dantonio.
Mark Dantonio is 90-42 in 10 years as head coach at Michigan State. He’s a two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, coming off winning two Big Ten Championships in three seasons. Last year the Spartans won 12 games (2nd best in school history); he’s the first coach in Big Ten history to win at least 11 games in five of six years. I don’t know what your definition of “earning the benefit of the doubt” is, but in my book, he’s got it and then some.
But what about his staff? Dantonio has had three different Offensive Coordinators during his tenure – Don Treadwell from 2007-2010, Dan Roushar from 2011-2012 and his current OC Dave Warner, who took over in 2013. Each one of them was a part of the sustained success the program found prior to this season. But, when things fail, often we look for somewhere to pin the blame.
“There’s always going to be criticism,” said Dantonio. “There’s always going to be constructive criticism from within. There’s always going to be criticism from the head coach, for the head coach, as well. It’s just the nature of football.”
That criticism doesn’t come solely from one person, and certainly doesn’t land solely on another. “At the end of the day, we’re all responsible, but we also all are responsible together,” said Dantonio, “and that’s what’s most important.”
We hear the term “change for the sake of change” a lot in sports, even if it rarely works out. For a guy who’s had one poor season in ten years, it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation.
“Can people change? Can we reconstruct something and make it better,” Dantonio questioned? “You have a better chance with the people in-house who know the problems and have experienced the problems and know the individuals we’re working with to create change, than to make a wholesale change and say, ‘we just need to get a new guy in here.” He continued, “That new guy comes in with a lot of fresh ideas, but not a lot of knowledge in terms of what’s gone on here in the past. So, I believe in loyalty, but it’s a two-way street.”
Now, where do we go from here? How do we fix it? How do we ensure that 2016 really was a fluke, and not the beginning of a bad slide?
“The inches are there,” said Dantonio. “It’s up to us to find those inches. Just going back to like that factory worker you talked about; every factory worker out there knows the inches that they have to find in order to do their job, or the job doesn’t get done right. But nobody’s talking about that; they’re just talking about a car that they built, and that’s football and that’s life in general, and I think we’re all challenged to find those inches.”
Sports are a results-driven business – simply put…be successful, or they’ll try to replace you with someone else who will be. “I think people see end results and they don’t even know how we got there,” Dantonio claimed.
“If you look back at last year, it is what it is, you gotta own it,” said Dantonio. “But at the end of the time there, I don’t think there’s any football game that we couldn’t have won.”
Maybe, just maybe, it’s not time to reach for that panic button just yet.