Michigan State mailbag: Tough questions face Mark Dantonio, football team's future

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It’s that time of year at Michigan State when the football team suffers a defeat that shows a championship run is unlikely, and the focus from fans starts to shift toward basketball.

We’re there now, especially when it comes to the mailbag.

No, football never will fade completely, and with news of Mark Dantonio’s impending deposition in the Curtis Blackwell case, it has folks continue to wonder about the head coach’s future.

But we start to transition to hoops this week as we talk about where the Spartans head in recruiting after the latest commitment and what sort of role freshman Malik Hall will have this season.

Mark Dantonio is in his 13th season as Michigan State's head football coach.

Question. Do you think lack of recruiting for next year could be because people thinking Dantonio is gone. How many players could we lose on team because of that as well as recruiting class? — @Boonefor3

Answer. I would absolutely think that could be something recruits are unsure about, but also don’t discount the fact many high school players are playing wait and see on the how the coaching shuffle changes things at Michigan State. That is something they’ve been paying attention to far longer than wondering if this is the end for Dantonio. That talk has heated up more here in the past few weeks, but even before that with the assumption Dantonio would be back, there was concern over the makeup of the staff.

Many players who had been or still are considering Michigan State are wondering how it all plays out, and through six games this season, it’s not like the offense has been lighting it up. Is it better? Sure, but it might not be the type of performance that sways recruits.

Q. What the odds Coach D retires after this year? This program, if everything went perfect, would still be three years away from contending for anything significant. — @mjgoshko

A. Let’s try and tackle the first part, which has started to become a weekly question. I’ve been saying for some time the notion of Dantonio stepping down before next season has been essentially a toss-up. There are all sorts of factors, but you have to consider the $4 million bonus he gets in January. I could see a scenario where they wrap up next year’s recruiting class in December, they work on finding his replacement then the move is made near the end of January. Or, Dantonio commits to seeing this through and says he’s the guy to get this team back to contending on a regular basis.

How much the pending litigation around Curtis Blackwell’s contention he was wrongfully terminated affects his decision is tough to say. That deposition won’t come until January, and by then, his decision already might have been made.

Q. Can MSU ever approach greatness with its current staff or will they putt along at 8-4/7-5 year after year until Dantonio retires? — @SuburbanSparty

A. Another tough question to ask, but considering the Spartans are currently hovering around No. 50 in the rankings for the 2020 recruiting class, it doesn’t exactly instill a whole bunch of confidence. Understand, the Spartans had a three-year stretch as an elite program because they hit on a number of under-the-radar recruits. That’s the reality for most teams not named Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State or a couple of others. In other words, it’s tough to consistently play at an elite level when you’re playing the recruit lottery. So, can MSU get back there with this staff? Sure. It’s just that the odds are long, no matter who is in charge.

Q. Cody White hasn't been the same since he broke his hand last season. Is he still bothered by the injury (physically or mentally)? — @daveholz

A. He’s not bothered by it physically, which means if it is an issue it has to be a mental one. I’m going to lean toward “maybe” on this one. It’s clear White has had some trouble hanging on to the ball this season, his fumble last week the latest incident while he’s also been pulled from punt return duties because of his penchant for putting the ball on the turf. However, he’s had a handful of impressive receptions, too, that make me think it’s nothing more than a bad stretch of not being able to protect the ball.

Q. What ever happened to players trying other positions if they were buried on the depth chart? Imagine if Jeremy Langford had transferred over lack of playing time. Or Tony Lippett, etc? Just seems shortsighted. — @spartythumber

Jeremy Langford rushed for 2,944 yards in his final two seasons at Michigan State, after playing several positions for the Spartans during his career.

A. Perhaps it is, but remember, transferring midseason — or more specifically, opposing coaches being allowed to contact players about transferring during the season — is a new deal that took effect last season. There wasn’t much movement last year because it was new, but now players are quickly looking for where they might be able to move. So no, it didn’t happen back when Jeremy Langford went from running back to defensive back to receiver back to running back, but in-season, he had no other choice. For guys like Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson, the option now exists. It might bother some folks that these guys didn’t stick it out, but times are changing and this is going to be the reality just about everywhere, not just Michigan State.

Q. With the fan base as distraught as it is, is it November 5 yet? — @RandyCheadle

A. I figured we’d start getting into the transition soon as it looks like a meaningful football season is out the window and the attention starts turning to hoops. Nov. 5, of course, is the opener against Kentucky at the Champions Classic in New York. It’s the first of a handful of marquee matchups in nonconference play with Michigan State likely the No. 1 team in the nation. It will be here before you know, that much I’m certain of.

Q. Tell me more about Malik Hall. Haven't heard a peep about him since the summer. Is he not picking things up, or are (Marcus) Bingham and (Thomas) Kithier just that far ahead/so improved that they are shutting him out of the conversation to start at the 4? — @SFLGT

A. The simple answer here is, no, the other players are not far ahead and so improved. In fact, as I wrote about yesterday, Tom Izzo and his staff are looking at all sorts of options at that spot, including Hall. Izzo was asked last week who he’d start right now and it was either Bingham or Kithier. But that was primarily about having a little more time in the system. Maybe there hasn’t been much said yet or even talked about, but my sense around the program is that Hall could quickly begin to separate himself in that role at power forward. Yes, there will be some freshman growing pains, and the Spartans can be remarkably flexible there, but I’m getting Hall will play a significant role this season.

Q. A basketball recruiting question, is there really anyone else in the 2020 class we can target? — @Peters70355932

A. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of activity for Michigan State in the 2020 class at this point. With three scholarships available after next season, the Spartans have three solid commitments with guards Jalen Terry and AJ Hoggard as well as big man Mady Sissoko, all four-star prospects. I’d suspect much of the staff’s focus at this point starts to go into 2021, but if five-star guard Bryce Thompson says, ‘Hey, I’m going to Michigan State,’ the Spartans are hardly saying no.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau