February 26, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Big coaching pay raises a 'benchmark' moment for Michigan State football

Mark Dantonio and the Spartans open the 2014 season at home against Jacksonville State. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

Grand Rapids — A day after receiving a pay raise that brought his annual salary to $3.64 million, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was reminiscing about the days he used to make about $300 a month as a graduate assistant.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said at the Spartan Winter Tailgate. “It’s hard to put that in perspective.”

The pay raises were “a benchmark day for our football program,” according to athletic director Mark Hollis, and came on the heels of Michigan State’s 13-1 season that included a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory.

“The compensation is not only a reward for what’s happened the last seven years,” Hollis said, “but the anticipation of where I think our program is headed in the future.”

Dantonio has significantly upped his salary from the days as a graduate assistant at Youngstown State and Akron. He is now among the highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten, while defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the highest-paid assistant in the conference at $904,583. The rest of the staff also received raises.

“I think it represents the confidence our administration has in us,” Dantonio said of the pay increases. “The commitment that they have also represents the need for continuity within our football staff and how important that is to our student athletes, to our football players and to the success of our program. Our coaches have done a tremendous job ... and quite frankly, they’re in high demand.”

Demand certainly was surrounding Dantonio and Narduzzi. Dantonio was mentioned as a possible replacement for Mack Brown at Texas, while Narduzzi turned down an offer to become coach at Connecticut and also discussed the opening at Louisville.

Hollis said Dantonio received interest from the pros, as well, but Dantonio said there was never any point where he considered leaving.

“We’ve wanted to be Spartans, so we’ve remained true to that aspect for the last seven years,” he said. “We’ve always been extremely happy here. It would be very, very difficult to leave our football team and our football players because you form relationships with your players over the course of time. ... It’s still about relationships with our players and comes back to the basic fundamental of why you coach.”

While Dantonio isn’t headed anywhere, Narduzzi’s days at MSU are likely much shorter. He has been one of the hot candidates for openings in recent years.

That’s why Hollis was certain he had to do what it took on his end to make sure it was hard for Narduzzi to leave, even telling him how much of a raise he would get before he entered negotiations with other schools.

“We feel like getting him over that 900 number had to be in play to keep him and his family at a level of comfort that when pursuing head coaching jobs it would be a conversation versus a reaction,” Hollis said.

Hollis added the pay raises won’t put an undue burden on the athletic budget, saying Michigan State could sustain them over the long haul while adding there is room for more movement upward.

But he added the burden now falls to donors, corporate sponsors and fans while also insisting there would be no increase in ticket prices.

“We need to deliver back to fans an unbelievable experience at Spartan Stadium,” Hollis said. “Fans are migrating to television and why increase prices at a stadium when you’re not fully selling out the components you currently have? That’s all on Spartan fans now, that’s on me, that’s on Coach D, to ensure we have a stadium … that is intense and is full.

“Raising prices is contrary to that process.”

Extra points

Dantonio still can’t comment on unsigned recruits, but he was asked if he felt confident in a couple players who have yet to sign their letters-of-intent.

“Yeah, close,” he said.

Michigan State is still expecting to get a signed letter from Southfield’s Malik McDowell, who verbally committed.

… Dantonio said defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones have all moved to the offensive line.