'One at a time,' Mark Dantonio closes in on MSU coaching record

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Mark Dantonio often likes to quote former Michigan State coach George Perles who used to say, “They only count one.”

That quote, of course, warns folks not to put too much stock in any one victory, emphasizing that fact that one victory doesn’t carry any more weight than any other. In other words, they’re all important.

Mark Dantonio is nine wins shy of matching Duffy Daugherty as the Michigan State's all-time winningest head football coach.

So, when Dantonio tries to come up with which of his 100 wins as the Spartans’ head coach are the most memorable, it’s not an easy assignment.

“I’ve got some favorites,” Dantonio said, “but it’s tough to really say one. I think you gotta look and say the Rose Bowl (against Stanford in 2014). Probably gotta say that first Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin (in 2011). Even though we didn’t win it was very memorable to me because it sort of set us up for the second one vs. Ohio State.

“I guess some of the games people don’t talk about are those games after the big games. I’ve always tried to say, ‘What are you gonna do next?’ Whether you win that big game or you lose it. What is gonna be your response to adversity? That, to me a lot of times, is how we’re measured as people.”

It’s hard to measure Dantonio’s tenure at Michigan State as anything but a success. With the victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, Dantonio’s record improved to 100-45, leaving him nine victories short of matching the legendary Duffy Daugherty, the winningest coach in program history. Along the way, Dantonio has won three Big Ten championships and taken the Spartans to the College Football Playoff while earning five bowl-game victories.

And in his first 11 seasons at Michigan State, Dantonio has won at least 10 games six times.

So, entering his 12th season as the Spartans’ head coach, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say the 62-yearl old native of Zanesville, Ohio, could notch another season where his team piles up double-digit victories. If he does, Dantonio will have more wins than any other Michigan State coach.

“Really, it’s been about one at a time,” Dantonio said. “When you stack together 100 of them I think it’s a statement toward the continuity that’s been here. Our coaching staff, our players and there are so many people that have been involved in these games that have had an impact on these games, whether it’s been great players or decisions made by our administration to play here or there or wherever, some of the different things and the resources we’ve been given. Then obviously, there’s the coaching aspect of it and we’ve had tremendous continuity here and I think that breeds success.”

The continuity has been impressive. Of the current staff, three — co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner, offensive line/assistant head coach Mark Staten and defensive coordinator Mike Tressel — have been with Dantonio since he came from Cincinnati in 2007. All three also spent time with Dantonio during his three seasons leading the Bearcats.

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The bulk of the rest of the staff has been at MSU for multiple seasons or has a long history with Dantonio, including Don Treadwell who is back at MSU after coaching with Dantonio for three years at Cincinnati and the first four seasons in East Lansing.

“He’s a great person, first of all,” said Tressel, who enters his 15th season working for Dantonio. “He treats everyone in the program with great respect and he has great trust from all of us and great loyalty from all of us because that’s how he treats us. The players feel that, the staff feels that and everyone here is willing to sell out and do whatever is necessary for him to be a successful. He’s a great leader.”

There seems to be no slowing Dantonio, who is 14th all-time in Big Ten wins and is second in active coaching victories behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (143 wins in 19 seasons).

So, if he doesn’t surpass Daugherty this season, it seems likely it will happen eventually.

“It’s a benchmark,” Dantonio said. “You’re always trying to challenge yourself to go to another limit. I saw someone put down all the games we won in a row and there’s a lot of time invested. I think I have all the scouting reports, too.

“I take them one at a time. I look back and there are some ones that we should have won. Maybe there’s a couple we should have lost, but athletics and sport is such a challenging experience for our players, for our coaches. … We’ve been blessed to have the position we’ve had and we’re gonna just keep on pushing forward.”