Michigan State mailbag: If this is Mark Dantonio's final season, who's next?
East Lansing — Basketball season is closing in and there’s a good chance Michigan State opens the season as the No. 1 team in the nation.
But after last weekend’s demoralizing loss at Wisconsin, the focus of this week’s mailbag is squarely on the football program and where it’s headed under coach Mark Dantonio.
The talk is heating up for who might succeed the 13-year coach. We also dive into who are some players who haven’t held up their end of the bargain through seven games.
► Question. If Coach Dantonio does step down, like I believe he will at season's end, is AD Bill Beekman really qualified to hire a head coach? If so, do you believe he already has those "three names in his desk drawer?" And — wild card — could Dantonio become the AD himself? — @pfnnewmedia
► Answer. I’ll start with the wild card first. No. OK, yes, he could become AD, but I can’t see any scenario where he actually would. That does lead us into tackling your main question, which concerns the ability of Bill Beekman to successfully navigate replacing the most successful coach in program history. Let’s be clear: There’s no guarantee Michigan State will be looking for a new coach. Dantonio’s retention bonus for $4.3 million won’t kick in until Jan. 15, and by then, work already will have been nearly complete on the 2020 recruiting class, and it’s not exactly the ideal time to go searching for a coach.
That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the position Michigan State is in early in the new year. It’s hard to say how prepared Beekman is to lead a search for a new football coach. It’s not like he has tons of experience in leading an athletics department, and never has facilitated a job search of this level. I’d suspect he’ll lean heavily on folks who’ve been with the department for quite some time, as well as reaching out to whatever contacts he has made around the Big Ten and beyond. And, let’s not forget the Board of Trustees and where they all stand. So three names in a desk? Maybe. But it better be more than three.
► Q. Rick Nueheisel said on this morning’s Full Ride he’s worried on & off-field trouble Mark Dantonio is facing leave his MSU tenure “in trouble.” What are the odds Dantonio either retires or is dismissed, and is it to too early to speculate on Matt Campbell or Luke Fickell? — @ByTCCameron
► A. This is clearly going to be a topic until the end of the season and beyond, it appears. It makes sense. Fans are frustrated, and it’s hard to see what the direction of this program is right now. That said, I’d be willing to bet most MSU fans would be ecstatic if Dantonio stuck around and did get the Spartans back to a championship level. I’m just not sure the confidence is there at this point that Dantonio can pull it off.
I’m not sure how the off-field issues will play in here. I suspect the bigger concerns for Dantonio are on the field, but I’m sure at this point in his career, it all comes into play. Who could replace him? Campbell and Fickell are names you’ve already heard, and will continue to hear while Mike Tressel and Pat Narduzzi also would certainly be in that mix, but that list likely will evolve as the season progresses and it becomes clear one will be necessary.
► Q. Can Dantonio & staff realize and adapt fast enough to grab every backup SEC player in the transfer portal? — @Sparty_Nation
► A. If that was possible, I’d suspect you’d see a significant talent upgrade in quite a few spots. How likely that is would be another question. The underlying issue is the recruiting misses Michigan State has had post-College Football Playoffs. The result is a team at this point with plenty of holes, namely along the offensive line and with difference-making players on offense. There are some young promising players, and there’s a chance guys like Devontae Dobbs, J.D. Duplain and Nick Samac are the core of the next great offensive line, much like the one the Spartans had in 2015. The problem is it will take some time for that to play out, and most fans have run out of patience.
Look, the question I get a lot usually sounds a lot like, ‘Why doesn’t MSU recruit a 4/5 stars?’ It’s not like MSU is opting to ignore the best players, but the reality of recruiting for most schools is hitting on middle-of-the-pack guys, developing them and mixing in a handful of high-end four stars with a five-star jumping in every now and then. It leaves a small margin for error, but that’s the reality.
► Q. How far has Josiah Scott's draft stock plummeted this season? Does he win the award this year for Most Disappointing Spartan? — @daveholz
► A. Hmmm. Well, I’d say the list of who could win that award would include quite a few contenders, and, frankly, most of them would be on defense. We weren’t sure about the offense and while it might be fair to throw a guy like Cody White on that list, the defense hasn’t been what we expected. Teams have done a good job of containing end Kenny Willekes, while safety David Dowell hasn’t intercepted a pass and has just one pass breakup. But Scott is in that conversation, too. He has two interceptions and four pass breakups but teams clearly aren’t afraid to go his way and at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he’s been outmuscled more than once this season.
What has that done to his draft stock? Well, I’d expect he’s back for his senior season. Good luck trying to find much information on where Scott might land. At CBS Sports, 16 cornerbacks are listed in their top 100 prospects and Scott is not one of them.
► Q. OSU loss was bearable. Remove the two fumbles, convert the TD to Cody White, remove the Hayes and Stewart drops and I can pretend it could have been a game. The Wisconsin loss was embarrassing. The team didn't look like it thought it could win. What's the mood of this team? — @Dennis_J_M
► A. Judging the mood can be a tough one when you’re not really in the locker room like you are covering basketball. Obviously, they’re not feeling great, but that’s not a shocker. I’ll say this: When things went bad in 2016, there was all sorts of rumbling about problems in the locker room. I haven’t heard the same rumblings this year, so that makes you think that, so far, a divide has not been created.
► Q. What's the penalty for just ending the season now? — @kmagin
► Q. I remember in my NCAA 2003 game they had about 30 or so mascots you could play as. Sparty was one of them. Can we just do that and have a 50-man roster of Sparty mascots? — @SuburbanSparty
► A. OK, I bunched this together because they clearly show the frustration level for Michigan State fans. At least you get this week off to dust off NCAA 2003. In fact, you’ll get another week off after the Penn State game to dial into basketball, which tips off for real in just less than three weeks.