June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Mark Dantonio:Head football coach at Michigan State sees himself as a leader of young men

Michiganian of the Year: Mark Dantonio
Michiganian of the Year: Mark Dantonio:

Mark Dantonio is not naïve. He understands his job is about winning.

The Michigan State football coach has done plenty of that in his seven seasons leading the Spartans, capping off one of the most successful stretches in program history last season with 13 victories, a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl win in the team’s first trip to Pasadena in 26 years.

As gratifying as it is to stand on college football’s biggest stages, Dantonio sees even greater success in what he sees as his true calling — a leader of young men.

“I think myself as a teacher or a mentor a little bit more than the head football coach, so it’s nice to see people succeed,” Dantonio said. “It’s nice to be able to hold the trophy up like that and do all that stuff, but it’s just as exciting to see a guy come back that you haven’t seen for a while or go to a golf outing and see some of the guys that you recruited and see what they’re doing and they’ve got children now and they’re married. ...I count those as wins just as much as I count a game out here as a win. I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Dantonio, a native of Zanesville, Ohio, has been doing that at Michigan State longer than any other stop in his 34 years of college coaching, including 10 as a head coach. He was first at Michigan State as an assistant under Nick Saban from 1995-1999 and in 2000 under Bobby Williams. He returned to Michigan State as the head coach in 2007.

Along the way, Dantonio has compiled a 64-29 record and ranks fourth among MSU’s all-time leaders in career wins. Michigan State’s 42 victories over the last four seasons are most in the Big Ten and tied for ninth most in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision during that period. It’s also the winningest four-year stretch in school history.

He has recorded plenty of the wins he cherishes off the field, as well. Before MSU’s spring game a few weeks ago, Kirk Cousins, a quarterback with Washington’s NFL team and a member of Dantonio’s first recruiting class, talked about what being a Spartan meant to him.

“I think the stability thing goes back to starting at the top with Coach Dantonio,” Cousins said. “He’s recruited the right kind of people. He used to always say that you win with people. So at the end of the day, talent gets you somewhere, but you’ve got to get the right kind of people in and the wrong kind of people out.”

For Dantonio, it will always be about more than wins and losses.

“Our No. 1 goal here is to form those lifelong relationships. If you don’t form those relationships, then inevitably you’re setting it all up about winning and losing, and if it’s all about winning and losing, you’re gonna drive yourself crazy.”

Matt Charboneau

Mark Dantonio / Dale G. Young / The Detroit News