'I feel good': MSU's Mark Dantonio, 63, won't put timetable on retirement
Chicago – Mark Dantonio insists he doesn’t worry much about what’s next.
Entering his 13th season as the head coach at Michigan State, Dantonio says he hasn’t put a timetable on how long he’ll stick around. No one is pushing him out the door, mind you, but at 63 there’s not much he hasn’t done as a head coach outside of winning a national championship.
So, the obvious question for Dantonio these days surrounds his future. Quite simply, does he think about when he might step down?
“No, I really don’t, I don’t,” Dantonio said at Big Ten media days. “I tell recruits, I guess I’ll tell you guys here, I live in the present. I like my job, I like my players, I really care for my players and I care for our coaches. And as long as they’re not causing too many problems, which they’d have to go quite a ways because the bar has been set high, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing as long as I feel good, and I feel really well.”
The feeling good part matters. Dantonio suffered a heart attack early in the 2010 season, but since then he’s been a picture of health through one of the most successful runs in program history.
Since arriving in late 2006, Dantonio has taken a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program and turned it into a perennial contender. Under Dantonio, the Spartans have won three Big Ten championships, reached the College Football Playoff and won five bowl games while winning 10 or more games six times.
It’s led to a record of 107-51, two victories shy of the program record established by Duffy Daugherty.
Dantonio likely will eclipse that number before the end of September, becoming the winningest coach in Michigan State history.
“For me, it’s an accumulation of a lot of work by a lot of people,” Dantonio said. “Administratively, assistant coaches, staff, players — they made all the plays. We’ve won games because players make plays. So I hope that everybody takes a moment that has been associated with this program in the last 13 years now, steps back and feels a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s not just about me. It never really has been. It’s about a group of people working toward a common goal. It will be a special moment I think because of all the different things that have gone on.”
It hasn’t all been easy. There have been off-field problems and there was the 3-9 season of 2016 that came on the heels of a playoff appearance. All have challenged Dantonio and tested the resolve of the program he has created.
Through it all, Dantonio continues to relish his job.
“I teach,” Dantonio explained. “Kids are kids. … Kids have changed in the last five years, but things have changed, the media has changed, everything changes them. But kids are still the same. They still have a passion, they’re still young, they still grow and it’s exciting for me to watch their growth.”
But when will Dantonio know that his teaching days have come to an end?
“I guess at some point when you don’t, you feel like somebody else is better suited to lead,” he said. “I don’t know, I just go with the flow.”
And when he does make that decision, what will he do with his time?
“I have thought about that. That’s a good question,” Dantonio said. “My wife says that all the time, ‘You’re not ready, you’re not ready. What are you going to do all day?’ I guess I’ll know when it happens.”
Until then, Dantonio is living in the present, focused on the 2019 season. Not many are picking the Spartans to win the Big Ten or even the East Division.
However, that matters little to Dantonio, a guy who has made proving people wrong some sort of art. It was in 2013 when he made a video while standing on the field at the Rose Bowl, telling his team that’s where they’d end the season.
That’s exactly what Michigan State did, erasing the memory of a 7-6 mark in 2012 by winning the Big Ten title then beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
On Thursday, he was giving similar hints, pointing out that he was wearing a pair of cuff links that once belonged to legendary Michigan State coach Biggie Munn.
“I put these on for a reason this week,” he said. “We’re headed in that direction. Whether it’s the Rose Bowl or someplace else special. That’s where we’re going.”