‘Totally different’ MSU impresses Haynes in his return

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Some things are just as Paul Haynes remembers.

Michigan State’s newest defensive backs coach has seen his share of familiar places in just a couple of days on the job. Kellogg Center is still there — the place he proposed to his wife, Danita — and down Michigan Avenue is Sparrow Hospital where his daughter, Kennedy Rose, was born.

And, of course, there’s Sparty’s Coney Island. Haynes hasn’t been back yet, but he’s already been thinking about taking down a stack of pancakes.

All of that came from 2003-04 when Haynes was the Spartans’ defensive backs coach under John L. Smith.

Needless to say, while some things remain the same 14 years later, there have been dramatic shifts within the football program. Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State has become a perennial Big Ten championship contender, has been to a bowl game in 10 of 11 seasons and reached the College Football Playoffs.

Oh, and the building has changed, too.

“I don’t know my way around here,” said Haynes, standing in the lobby of the Skandalaris Center. “Before it was just one big square. I can’t even figure it out. All I told guys I remember is that old trophy case used to sit there and have in the front when it was just one big square. They’ve done an unbelievable job, and I just came over from 1855 Place. That building over there is unbelievable. We toured the stadium, it’s unbelievable. Again, they’ve done a good job with investing in the student-athletes. I mean, you can see it.”

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All of that is cosmetic, for the most part. What has changed most since Haynes was last in East Lansing has been the winning. It’s something Haynes, who was the head coach at Kent State the past five seasons, noticed when he and his son, Tarron, visited campus when Haynes was here to interview.

“That’s the one thing, when I did come up on my interview,” Haynes said. “I brought my son with me and when we left, he sat there, and my son is 19, he’ll actually be transferring here, he sat there and said —because we met some of the players — he said it just feels like they just exude championships. That was the fun part about just meeting the kids, meeting the coaches and everything that’s set up here to go win a championship.

“They’ve done a really good job of building that foundation and that culture of getting kids in here and believing in what they’re doing. It’s a different Michigan State team than in 2003 and 2004. The expectations are totally different. You can feel it.”

Winning championships was exactly what Michigan State had in mind when hiring Haynes to replace Harlon Barnett, who left to become defensive coordinator at Florida State.

And Haynes has some experience in winning.

He was secondary coach at Ohio State from 2005-10 and in 2011 added the title of co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. In that time, Ohio State won six Big Ten championships and played in six BCS games, including two appearances in the BCS National Championship Game in 2007 and 2008.

“He’s coached in two national championship games, he’s coached in every major college bowl game,” Dantonio said. “He’s coached NFL players at a high level, all-conference players. He’s been a head coach, he’s had to deal with things and has a very deep understanding all of the things that can befall coaches and players and things of that nature. I think we’re very fortunate to have him on our staff. Great person.”

That head coaching experience has helped, Haynes believes, but it’s just one part of what makes him different than he was the last time he coached at Michigan State.

There’s no doubt he’s a better coach, he said, and now he hopes to add to what he believes is a program that has been built to be a winner.

“It’s a totally different feel, it’s a totally different vibe, it’s a totally different expectation now, which is a good thing,” Haynes said. “Through your coaching career you get that at different stops and the expectations are totally different. That’s the pressure that you love. You love to have passionate fans.

“A lot of coaches sit there and say, ‘I don’t read my emails.’ I do. I like the pressure of having people disappointed some of the times. You don’t want them to be disappointed, but it means that they care. It means that they care about your program and I’ve been a part of programs where you didn’t get those emails, it didn’t matter if you won or lost, and I think it’s important that your fan base, the community and everybody is involved in it.”