MSU's Dantonio, Iowa's Ferentz reminisce ahead of big game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — The first time Kirk Ferentz remembers meeting Mark Dantonio, it was also the first time he had ever eaten a grouper sandwich.

It’s not clear whether they shared the meal, but it at least provided a light moment to Friday’s press conference as No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State prepared for Saturday’s matchup in the Big Ten championship game.

“That would have been the spring of 1989,” Ferentz recalled. “I got introduced to grouper sandwiches. First time I recruited down in Tampa.”

At the time, Ferentz was the offensive line coach at Iowa and Dantonio was an assistant under Jim Tressel at Youngstown State.

It was also the first time Dantonio was recruiting in Florida, and he didn’t know the lay of the land.

“I got in my rental car,” Dantonio said, “and I didn't know where I was going. No cell phones or GPS back then. I drove around behind the guy from Iowa, which was Kirk. I think we did that for almost two days. I got to know him at that point in time.”

They’ve certainly got to know each other plenty since then as Ferentz is in his 17th season at Iowa and Dantonio is in his ninth at Michigan State after time as an assistant at both Ohio State and Michigan State.

While the teams have had their share of battles over the years, Ferentz and Dantonio have developed an admiration for each other, Dantonio even saying this week he used Iowa as a model when first arriving at Michigan State in 2007.

“I just always felt like he was very grounded,” Dantonio said of Ferentz. “Wasn't aloof, sort of said it the way it was. Obviously have a lot of respect for him as a football coach.”

They’ve also been rooted in the small-school atmosphere. While Dantonio was at Youngstown State in 1989, Ferentz became the head coach at Maine the next season. So both understand how far they’ve come from those early days in Florida.

“Mark was actually at Youngstown State, a program I continue to have great respect for,” Ferentz said. “He was there with Clarence Brooks, assistant at Syracuse. The budget was tight. I think Mark was living in the room with Clarence and riding in the car to save money. A year later I was coaching at that same level, up at Maine. (It was the) first time we really got to know each other. He was coaching I believe with Coach Tressel at that time at Youngstown.

“Funny how the world turns around sometimes. However many years later this is, here we are in Indianapolis. No grouper sandwiches this weekend, though.”

Pendleton update

Fullback Trevon Pendleton went through Michigan State’s walk-through on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium with a brace on his left knee.

Pendleton left last week’s game late in the first half and was helped to the locker room. Dantonio didn’t give an update on Pendleton’s status earlier this week, but the fact he was moving around well on Friday was a good sign he’ll be available in some capacity.

Iowa injuries

Iowa is dealing with its own injury issues after linebacker Ben Niemann was knocked out of last week’s game at Nebraska when he was struck in the head late in the first quarter. The sophomore who was named honorable mention all-Big Ten by the coaches this week is going through concussion protocol.

Defensive end Nate Meier, who was named third-team All-Big Ten, left the field against Nebraska with an apparent leg injury.

Both should be available on Saturday.

“Ben practiced midweek on,” Ferentz said. “Nate practiced this morning. … He's going to play. So we'll see how effective he is, how long he goes, but he'll play. Same thing with Ben.”