Entering Year 13, Mark Dantonio still 'blessed' to be at Michigan State
East Lansing — Mark Dantonio began his 13th season as Michigan State’s coach last week when preseason camp began.
Only Duffy Daugherty has coached longer, leading the Spartans for 19 seasons. Dantonio is next along with Charlie Bachman, who coached from 1933-46.
On Monday, at Michigan State’s media day, Dantonio was asked if he thought he’d be in the same position for 13 years.
“The big question is did you think I'd be here 13 years?” Dantonio responded as laughter filled the room.
There was likely some skepticism back in November of 2006 when Dantonio replaced John L. Smith. He had plenty of success as an assistant, winning a national championship at Ohio State as a defensive coordinator.
But even having already been at Michigan State as an assistant under Nick Saban and Bobby Williams, some wondered if three years as Cincinnati’s head coach was enough for him to take over the Spartans.
Those concerns were quickly dashed. Dantonio got Michigan State to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons before winning a share of the Big Ten title in 2010. Championships followed in 2013 and 2015 along with a trip to the College Football Playoff in 2015. There have been six double-digit win seasons and eight victories over Michigan.
It’s been a heck of a run, but Dantonio admitted it has moved quickly.
“Yeah, it really has,” he said. “I think you're sort of, you're on the carousel. You're just going. You go from one thing to another when you're a coach, from football to recruiting to critiquing to spring ball or whatever, a little time off, and you're back on it.”
The Spartans are back on it again, preparing for the Aug. 30 opener against Tulsa. Dantonio and the Spartans are trying to rebound from a lackluster 2018 that ended with a 7-6 record and an offense that had trouble finding the end zone.
That, coupled with the 3-9 season in 2016, might have some wondering if the end is near for Dantonio. However, he sounds nothing like a guy who is winding down.
“I've been blessed to be here,” Dantonio said. “I've been humbled to be here, and there's been a lot of great players here and a lot of great moments here. That's really why we've sort of adopted ‘Chase the Moment’ because we've had some great moments. We want those again. We want to chase those down and become part of that.
“Yeah, it's gone fast in some ways, and other ways it's sort of gone slow, much like life. It's been a great experience.”
Beginning last season, players could appear in up to four games without losing their redshirt. It’s a rule Dantonio thinks worked out well.
“I think it's very beneficial for everybody involved,” Dantonio said. “I think it's beneficial for a guy to play four games and still continue to redshirt. It helps with his graduation, first of all. It helps with his graduation percentages. Second thing is it gives him game experience which allows him to be more confident the next time, the next year when he comes and is able to play. So I think it's a very big positive.”
A handful of Spartans got that experience last season, including defensive backs Davion Williams and Kalon Gervin, tight end Trenton Gillison, running back Elijah Collins and defensive tackle Jacob Slade. All will have a shot to see regular playing time this season.
Dantonio hopes the rule is expanded.
“I think they ought to do that with the transfers,” he said. “I think they should have an opportunity to play four games. I think it would help in their graduation. … Hopefully, they make a decision at some point in time to remedy certain things with the transfer situation, but that would be my recommendation.”
Dantonio hasn’t given up on getting Jayden Reed, a transfer from Western Michigan, on the field in 2019. The wide receiver is likely to sit out this season, but Dantonio said there is a glimmer of hope.
“I guess it's semi-official, but I'm going to keep trying,” Dantonio said. “I'm going to keep trying to look at all the different ways and possibilities, but we'll see how that all works out. I wouldn't close the book until we close the book because I think he's a very good player, and we want to do what we can do, but we'll see.”
… Dantonio indicated there were a few position changes. Sophomore Weston Bridges has gone from running back to wide receiver while redshirt freshman Parks Gissinger switched from defensive end to tight end. Fifth-year senior tight end Matt Seybert played defensive end last season but has shifted back to tight end.