East Lansing — Media day at Michigan State this week had a familiar feel.
The names were mostly the same. The setting was, too, at the media center inside Spartan Stadium. Players and coaches were spread around the room talking big about the upcoming season.
Optimism was the theme, much as it is every season.
But something had changed, too, something significant. That change, of course, occurred when head coach Mark Dantonio decided during the offseason to adjust his staff. The fact he decided to shake things up after a miserable offensive performance in 2018 isn’t a real shocker. How he went about it, though, was more of an eyebrow raiser.
Instead of bringing in new coaches, Dantonio simply moved around the pieces. While it resulted in the promotion of Brad Salem from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator and running backs coach, it also meant the demotion of a handful of others.
Dave Warner, who had been the co-offensive coordinator and primary play-caller, was moved back to quarterbacks. Mark Staten, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach is now the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. And wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel was moved to the other side of the ball to assist with the defensive backs.
So, everyone is still around, they’re just doing different jobs. And that surely made for some uncomfortable moments around the staff room.
“Yeah, I understood it was going to be tough,” Dantonio said. “It was going to be a tough situation. That's human nature.”
Tough might be an understatement. For a guy like Warner, he’d been the coordinator since 2013 and oversaw the offense during that Big Ten championship season as well as 2014 when the Spartans set a number of program records in offensive production. He was at the helm, too, when Michigan State made the College Football Playoff in 2015.
However, he was the coordinator in 2016 when MSU won three games and last season when it ranked 116th in the nation in scoring.
Still, the move wasn’t easy.
“It was difficult, sure,” Warner admitted. “But Coach D made some decisions and our plan is to make those decisions work out for the best.”
Dantonio’s explanation for the moves — it included Jim Bollman going from co-coordinator to offensive line coach and Don Treadwell shifting from defensive backs to wide receivers — was to put people in positions of expertise.
Warner has spent the bulk of his 30-plus years coaching working with quarterbacks while Bollman’s forte has been the offensive line. Even Staten has coached tight ends at Cincinnati and Michigan State and Treadwell coached wide receivers in an earlier stint with the Spartans.
“I certainly enjoyed coaching running backs, but my passion and my experience has been at quarterback,” Warner said. “I feel that's what I do best from a coaching standpoint, but it's all been good.”
Staten, too, doesn’t feel like the coaching aspect will change that much.
“It's been fine. you know,” Staten said. “Bolls and I always work together anyway, you know. He would take the tackles and tight ends and I’d take the inner three. It's not like last year any of us forgot how to coach or forgot how the call plays. We're the same, the same people, and we know what to do.
“Sometimes that change — as we all know in life — can be very, very rewarding. And, you know, there's not a selfish bone in that staff room.”
Keeping any sort of that selfishness at bay will likely go a long way toward Michigan State rebounding on offense this season. It already seems to be working.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke said Warner seems more at ease now, not stressed thinking about much beyond improving the play of Michigan State’s signal-callers.
“Yeah, I think so,” Warner said when asked if he agreed with Lewerke’s assessment. “I think it's natural, a natural thing that takes place. I'm just basically free to focus on the one position now and certainly contributing every way I can, but my focus is on Brian or Rocky (Lombardi) or whoever that quarterback is out there at that time.”
Samuel was the lone offensive coach that had a unit that wasn’t underperforming. The receivers were hit hard by injuries last season, but it’s hard to be too critical of the way Samuel’s guys played.
Still, Samuel found himself on the other side of the ball working with defensive backs. He coached defensive backs for two seasons at Nebraska-Omaha in 2003-04, but beyond that, he’s been an offensive guy. However, he still thinks he brings something to the table that will help defensive backs coach Paul Haynes.
“There are times when Coach Haynes is going and he’s in true DB mode when I can interject that offensive perspective,” Samuel said. “From a wide receiver technique it’s, what do we do in the red zone with timing patterns and things of that nature? I can interject those things and just get them to understand, ‘Hey, this is going to happen, it's going to be a little bit faster, and you can do this.’ I think I can help, and I think that's what my best asset right now is. I can interject to these guys that this is what's going to happen from an offensive perspective.”
While the moves might have been hard to handle early on, the staff seems unified behind the same goal — getting the offense moving and putting 2018 in the past.
“I think last year that was frustrating, but it was a full team problem last year,” Warner said. “Whether it be injuries, whether it be execution, whether it be coaching, whether it be the play-calling. I think we all contributed to our lack of success and our plan is this year we're all going to contribute to our great successes.”
MSU staff changes
Coach; Old position; New position
Brad Salem; QB; OC/RB
Dave Warner; OC/RB; QB
Jim Bollman; OC/TE; OL
Mark Staten; OL; TE/Special teams
Don Treadwell; Asst. DB; WR
Terrence Samuel; WR; Assistant DB