Michigan State's defense gives Don Treadwell fresh perspective in return to familiar role

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — When Mark Dantonio shuffled his coaching staff in the offseason, he said he wanted to move people into their “area of expertise.”

That description of Michigan State’s coaching changes following the 2018 season fits Don Treadwell perfectly. In his third stint with the Spartans, Treadwell is back coaching the wide receivers, something he did his previous two stops in East Lansing and something he’s done often throughout a coaching career that began back in the mid-1980s.

Don Treadwell is coaching Michigan State's receivers for the third time in his coaching career, which dates to the 1980s.

“Don Treadwell has been a wide receiver coach all his life, basically,” Dantonio said.

Who better to coach the receivers, then?

When Dantonio decided to make his changes to the offensive staff, it included shifting Terrence Samuel from receivers to assistant defensive backs coach. It was a tough deal for Samuel, who had mentored the likes of Aaron Burbridge, Tony Lippett, Bennie Fowler and Felton Davis in his time on the offensive side of the ball.

But with a coach like Treadwell available — he rejoined Dantonio’s staff in 2018 as assistant defensive backs coach while overseeing the freshmen — it made more sense.

Now, Treadwell is hoping his season on the defense will help him breathe life into the Spartans’ passing game.

“The opportunity that I had last season was just phenomenal,” Treadwell said as Michigan State prepared for the season opener Friday against Tulsa. “I mean in our profession at the college level, very few times, especially if you are a veteran coach, do you get to swap and go from one side of the ball to the other. For me to have had that opportunity, there is not enough hours in the day to tell you how unbelievable that opportunity was because I learned so much.

“When you think about it, we have, if not the best, we are the top three in every category on defense. Also, to peek behind a curtain, if you will, and to see what (defensive coordinator Mike) Tressel and the other defensive coaches put together on defense, has only made me a better offensive coach.”

Before the season on defense, Treadwell had spent his entire career on offense. He started as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Youngstown State in 1986 and trips to Miami (Ohio), Cincinnati, Stanford, Boston College, North Carolina State and Ball State that followed were all as offensive coaches.

He made his first stop at Michigan State as wide receivers coach under Bobby Williams from 2000-02, and after one season at Ball State he became Dantonio’s offensive coordinator at Cincinnati from 2004-06. He followed Dantonio to MSU in 2007 and served as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach until 2010. After that season, Treadwell left become the head coach at Miami (Ohio). Three years on the offensive staff at Kent State followed before his return to Michigan State.

More: Scouting the Michigan State offense: Questions abound

His goal now is to use the knowledge he gained last season to lead a group that includes fifth-year senior Darrell Stewart and junior Cody White.

“It should be an advantage because you get a feel for maybe a little bit more of the finer points, and we look at things schematically a little bit on offense,” Treadwell said. “Now that I’ve been on the other side, I can see how a No. 1 defense in the country puts things together to prepare for an offense and that was really eye-opening for me, and it really helped me appreciate some things that they do on that side of the ball.”

Stewart has caught 101 career passes while White has 77. Throw in the speed of sophomore Jalen Nailor and a budding star like freshman Julian Barnett and Treadwell has plenty to work with in the room. Included in that group are veterans like juniors Cam Chambers and Laress Nelson, and sophomore C.J. Hayes, all players looking to make an impact.

For Treadwell, it’s been fun working once again in his area of “expertise.”

“It’s always nice coming in having young men that have talent and potential,” Treadwell said. “But that doesn’t cut it by itself. They’ve still got to develop.”

That’s what Treadwell plans to do as Michigan State looks to rebound from last season when it ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total offense and eighth in passing offense (217.2 yards per game).

“We want guys that are hungry to go out and get the job done,” Treadwell said, “but to (also) have an edge to get the job done.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau