An Interview With:
COACH MARK DANTONIO
COACH DANTONIO: First of all it's great
to be back here in Chicago. We look forward to
the '08 season. Our guys have been working
extremely hard this off-season.
When you look back at the last year a little
bit at our season, it's a season that you could really
point to and say the difference between winning
and losing is that big. We won seven football
games, lost six by a very, very small margin.
Had an outstanding group of seniors.
think one of the key ingredients to this year's
season will be how our seniors display their
leadership. Last year our guys were very, very
good in that respect, and we need to continue that.
From looking back the last year, I think one
of the other things that are very important in our
program right now is we were able to keep our staff
intact. Staff continuity is very, very critical to the
opportunity to win in this conference and we were
able to do that.
We have a new facility. Bob
Scandolera is a main contributor in that. We
moved into that new facility actually Monday.
Some boxes are still being unpacked. It's now a
new facility and we're looking forward to being
With that being said, we understand that
it's the work you do where you're at, not where
you're at. So we need to continue to work in that
direction we want to, and the bowl game was the
first step forwards for our program.
Recruiting is going very, very well right
now, an outstanding group that is committed. I
don't think I've ever been in a program that has
had this many commitments early in the process. I
think it's probably nationwide right now the way it
But we've got an outstanding group of
young people coming. Probably highlighted by a
quarterback, an outstanding quarterback, two
outstanding running backs. Outstanding skilled
receivers and a couple defensive backs,
outstanding group of linebackers. So we're looking
very much to the future in that regard.
I think it's important to note that our
schedule is very difficult. I think last year when I
stood here we had the No. 4 ranked schedule in
terms of toughness in America.
This year we're
No. 13. We open at Cal. It will be a big test for us,
come back and play Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, then play a Notre Dame team which I'm
sure will be looking to rebound.
Outstanding Big Ten Conference
schedule. The Big Ten conference, as usual, is
one of the premier conferences in America, and I
know that we can all sit and talk about which
conference is the best, but it's very, very difficult to
measure that in terms of year to year, week to
week on any given Saturday. And I'm very, very
proud to be a part of the Big Ten Conference and
everything that we stand for in terms of academics,
integrity and performance on the football field.
We've had a great summer. We look
forward to the challenges.
Where we sit right now
as a program, we're on first base. Went to a
Tigers game so I guess we'll characterize it in
baseball terms. We're on first base trying to get to
second. First base was a bowl game for us. It's
important to take a step forward, not a step back
and move forward with a quest for a championship,
and I do believe that that's where we're headed.
And again we've had a great summer so I
want so thank everybody for coming. I'll just open
it up for questions right now and try to be as quick
Q. Coach, you've had a very dynamic
one-two punch in the backfield with Caulcrick
and Ringer the last few years. How do things
change now that Caulcrick has moved on, and
how much responsibility do you now put on
COACH DANTONIO: Javon Ringer is one
of the premier running backs in America in the Big
Ten Conference. He's an outstanding young
person, and many, many times you find the
opportunities to talk about one particular player. I
can't say enough about Javon as a person. In
terms of how he'll handle the carries, he had over
-- I think he had over 250 carries last year. Jehuu
had about the same.
I believe in this day and age there's got to
be two-tailback system or three. We've used three
at Cincinnati at one point in time, they've used two
at Ohio State, wherever I've been, we've used two
at Michigan State in the past. We'll look for some
of the younger players to step up. I think we have
great ability with those younger players, Andre Anderson right here from Chicago, Ashton Leggett,
A.J. Jimmerson, we'll see how they progress. But
Javon certainly will be a lead player for us. He's
going to be instrumental in us having success this
Q. Coach, you made the switch from
the Big East to the Big Ten and now Rich Rodriguez is doing the same thing. What will
he bring to the Big Ten and what should he
COACH DANTONIO: I think what he
brings to the Big Ten is a great football awareness
in terms of what he's been able to do. He's done
outstanding things at West Virginia. He's taken a
program at West Virginia and built it to a national
contender. I think without question that will be his
quest to do it at the University of Michigan now.
So outstanding recruiter, worker, outstanding staff.
So the Big Ten Conference, very
competitive. I guess comparing it to the Big East, I
was only in the Big East for three years, but I see
the Big Ten Conference as a conference where
anybody sort of can rise up and play and win in
any particular game and I think evidence to that is
the success that Northwestern has had in the past
and all the various teams. You've seen so many
teams make it to the Rose Bowl, you've seen in
Illinois last year come from wherever they came
from in the bottom the year before right up to the
top, so it can happen. I guess you'll have to ask
him about that, though. Great coach, though.
Q. MIKE FOWLER - SCOUT.COM: Coach, you used the analogy of
being on first base. How realistic is it to think
that maybe you can make it all the way home
and challenge for the championship this year?
COACH DANTONIO: I think if you don't
talk about championships within your football team
and in your program, you're doing your players a
disservice and selling them short. Last year every
single game we went into, we expected to win.
And I can honestly say we had a chance to win
every single game going into the last three or four
minutes of the game. So it's not as far a way as
you might think, and then again, you know, it's not
as close as you would imagine. So again, I believe
that that's going to take place in terms of what kind
of senior leadership you have, how you get
through the tough times, how you handle adversity,
how you're able to bounce back after a tough loss,
how healthy can you stay, so there's a lot of things
that really factor into that. But our goal will be to
win a Big Ten Championship this year, and I have
no problems standing up here staying that. I said
last year our goal was to go to a bowl game, and
we were able to accomplish that, so I think Spartan
Nation is excited, and that's the way it should be.
Q. You mentioned Illinois and just a lot
of people were mentioning how well they did
last year. You all are kind of the popular pick
to be this year's Illinois, so to speak, to be the
Big Ten team most likely to make that jump.
What are your thoughts on that?
COACH DANTONIO: They're factoring us
up. My thoughts on that is everybody has an
opportunity in this conference; you've seen that
again and again. I've already alluded to that. How
we play down the stretch will be important. We lost
some games last year in the closing minutes of the
game. We lost one double-overtime game. We
lost a couple games where we had the lead. We
lost a game where we almost came back and had
a chance to win at the end. So we have to finish
games at the end.
I think it's important to note, though, we
have to get to the point where we're close at the
end. You can't lose sight of just -- you have to get
there, also. It's not just finishing the game. You
have to play well enough to be in that situation at
the end of the game. Last year we were.
As I said, we had some great senior
leadership, and I would say if you're going to win a
championship or have a great football season your
seniors have to play their best football. Last year I
think our seniors played their best football. We're
going miss some of those guys. We've lost good
players. We lost Devin Thomas, as well, at wide receiver. We have to replace some key people,
but I do think our players are working extremely
hard, and I think our spring is indicative for us
being able to do that.
Q. The previous Michigan State regime
had a lot of focus on Jucos, Ervin Baldwin and
Devin Thomas, and your recruiting has avoided
that. Can you speak about the philosophy
COACH DANTONIO: Junior college
players are recruited usually to address a specific
need. At times we will do that and at times other
programs do that. I think at a place like Michigan
State, with the past that we have and the history
that we have, it's important that our players
understand that history and understand that they're
just -- I always talk about being just a piece of dust
floating through. We have to make our own mark.
Sometimes it takes five or six year to
understand what being at Michigan State is all
about. I think it's difficult for a guy to come into our
last few years of playing football. He's going to
play one season getting his feet on the ground,
next season he possibly could have a great year,
Ervin did, Jehuu did, Devin did. And then they're
gone. So do they really ever get the taste of what
it means to be at Michigan State? I think that's
what we're looking for. I think we're looking for that
passion. They played with great passion but now
they're gone and it's a little bit more of a quick-fix
attitude in my mind.
So we're going to recruit to longevity in this
program, and I think that most teams probably do
that. But there are times when you need to
address a specific need, and I'm sure that's what
Q. You mentioned losing Devin
Thomas. Can you talk about some the guys
you're counting on to step in to replace his
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've got --
Devin, first of all, caught almost 1,200 yards of
passes last year, I think 73 passes. He had an
outstanding junior season actually. I think that
Mark Dell who was a starter last year, was a true
freshman throughout the entire year, he's raising
his game. He had a great spring. B.J. Cunningham is a guy who would have played last
year. He's a guy that I think we can look for great
things from. Fred Smith is an incoming receiver
that's one of the top receivers in the state of
Michigan and in the Midwest last year. We expect
great things from him, as well.
So we've got some guys. I think we bring
in three freshmen we've graduated some other
guys moving through the process. Deon Curry had
a solid year last year, will be a senior. It will be
important to have him step up. Sometimes it's
what your quarterback can do, your ability to run
the ball, if he's able to give the wide receivers
opportunities, as well. It's a team game. We've
got guys that catch the football, guys that make big
plays, and we'll look to use them specifically.
can we get the same production out of one
particular person? That's tough. But can we do it
as a committee? We're going to look forward to
Q. The top three in the preseason this
year in the poll Ohio State, followed by
Wisconsin, Illinois. Do you sense that the Big
Ten is in a transition, or is this just one of
those anomaly years before like Michigan and
Penn State get back up there? What's your
sense of it?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, outside of
being in the Big East for three years, I've been in
the Big Ten since '95. So throughout that time
what I've seen is people coming out of nowhere
and playing very, very well. 1999 we were picked
to be 9th, I believe, ended up 10-2. So, you know,
I think it can happen for any football team in this
conference. I think that's basically the case
probably across the nation. We have these things
and have these magazines that set forth the
favorites and talk about all different people coming
back, but the reality is Devin Thomas, to give you
an example, didn't catch a pass last year in our
spring football game. He caught six passes last
year for 60 yards, so the transition that he made,
the turnaround that he made, is just as indicative
as the turnaround that Illinois made and that
another team can make in 2008.
So as I said earlier, we'll prepare for every
single game with the idea that we have an
opportunity to win that football game. If we tackle
well, if we catch the ball well, if we block effectively
and don't turn the ball over, do the things that are
necessary to win a football game. So I don't know
if I'm answering that question, but if I'm not, I'm
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