Coach Mark Dantonio has transformed Michigan State from an afterthought to a power. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
My wife was in tears moments after Michigan State beat Stanford, 24-20, on Wednesday to win the 100th Rose Bowl.
“Daddy would have wanted to see this,” she said.
She is a Spartan, and her father, Dr. Ralph W. Bonner, provided Michigan State his services as senior adviser to the president on diversity, criminal justice professor and adviser to athletes.
Bonner died last May at the age of 81.
Like a lot of Spartans, this was the one moment he wanted to see. But he missed out because of years of infighting, inferior coaching and an inferior mind-set.
“We just can’t get it together,” he once said.
And they couldn’t.
There were the days of John L. Smith slapping players across the face, and Bobby Williams saying he didn’t know if he lost his team following a demoralizing loss at Michigan.
There were bowls — the Independence, Liberty and Sun to name a few — when the Spartans got slapped around.
And there was in 1997 when Nick Saban and Co. said they had to beg and buy its way to the Aloha Bowl.
The Spartans, however, no longer have to beg, borrow or steal.
The comedy of errors which plagued this program is a thing of the past, and the thanks goes to coach Mark Dantonio, who brought stability and professionalism to the program.
Dantonio changed a culture — inside and out.
He talked about beating Michigan and Ohio State. He knew his team could win Big Ten titles and didn’t back down from it when others questioned him.
Instead of talking about hopes and dreams, he talked about his program being as good as anybody, and backed up his words with toughness and belief.
Now, the Spartans fans believe almost as much as his players do.
Right now, Dantonio is a hot name in college football.
Michigan fans want him to leave because for the first time in decades, Michigan State is better, having won five of the last six meetings.
Texas is interested in luring him to Austin, but Dantonio appears to be set in East Lansing, especially after athletic director Mark Hollis said after the Rose Bowl he was working on raises for Dantonio and his staff.
And with Dantonio in charge, you can bet the Spartans aren’t going away.
Sure, Michigan State may not be able to compete with Michigan and Ohio State for the best recruits, but the Spartans are fine with that. Dantonio has built his program on hungry, tough-nosed athletes that fit and buy into his system.
And because of that, anyone can see now that Michigan State has finally got it “together.”