Mark Dantonio gets choked up after exclamation-point triumph
San Diego – Late Thursday night, as Mark Dantonio was being asked to put into words what his team had just accomplished by beating Washington State in the Holiday Bowl and capping a 10-win season, he was briefly interrupted.
Senior linebacker Chris Frey, sitting to the coach’s right, interjected his own quick opinion.
“Great coaching,” Frey said into the microphone.
Dantonio fired back just as fast, “Great players.”
It all counted in the 42-17 domination of Washington State, the fifth bowl victory in the last six for the Spartans. But it’s gone back further than that. The coaching combined with outstanding play led to win No. 100 for Dantonio in his Michigan State career, leaving him just nine behind the legendary Duffy Daugherty.
The coach, who just finished his 11th season leading the Spartans, is now 118-62 in his career as a head coach after going 15-17 in three seasons at Cincinnati before taking over at Michigan State in 2007. And in the locker room following the win over Washington State, the moment got to the stoic head coach.
“Coach D means everything to us,” fifth-year senior quarterback Damion Terry said. “That’s all of our father away from home and we knew what it meant to him. He was making sure all week we were focused. To end the season like that, to see him cry in the locker room was unforgettable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Coach D cry like that. I’m glad we could send him out happy.”
The coach who everyone says never smiles was overwhelmed by the moment. Not so much his record, but what he’d seen his team – players and staff – do over the previous 12 months. They overcame numerous off-field issues, brushed aside the doubters and completed the biggest turnaround in program history.
And when it was done, those players and the staff gave Dantonio the game ball.
“He just started talking and I think he was going down memory lane with everything we’ve been through, everything this team showed him, the coaches showed him,” Terry said. “He just said we’ve got heart and I was glad we got this for him. We know how much it means to him.”
Added senior center Brian Allen, “I’m proud of the way we played and to give Coach D and the staff that win was big. Not many programs over the last 11 years can say they won 100 games, so I think we put ourselves in an elite category with that and I’m proud to be able to be a part of that.”
Michigan State didn’t have a large senior class – only 15 were on the roster – but they finished things in style. And the finality of it all started to sink in for a few.
“It's been an honor playing with all these guys,” senior linebacker Chris Frey said. “I got back to the locker room and I was talking to Shane Jones and said, ‘I don't want to take this jersey off.’ I'm going to take as much time as I can in my jersey. The future is bright for this team. I'm excited to continue watching this team grow. The sky is the limit for this team.”
For Allen, the realization came before his final game and the gratification came after.
“I really don’t get emotional about much but as I was before driving over here, it kinda started to hit me that this was my last game playing for Michigan State and I started getting some tears, thinking about everything that’s happened over the last four years,” Allen said. “I think of how awesome it’s been and what we’ve been able to do over that span of time. I’m just happy for all the memories I’ve made over the four years. It sucks now that it’s over but I wouldn’t go back and change anything.”
Allen and Frey will both start “chasing the dream” of the NFL, as Allen put it.
Allen said he’s headed to Arizona to begin training while Frey is off to Florida to begin the same quest to reach the next level.
… Freshman Antjuan Simmons left the game after a big hit on Washington State’s James Williams. The linebacker posted on Twitter after the game that he was fine and thanked fans for reaching out.
… Junior guard David Beedle also left the game in the first half with what appeared to be a leg injury. He was replaced by sophomore Tyler Higby.
… Freshman cornerback Josiah Scott was called for targeting in the second half and will have to sit out the first half of Michigan State’s opener next season on Sept. 1 against Utah State.