Mark Dantonio's staff focused on Rutgers, not fuzzy future with MSU
East Lansing — While Mark Dantonio said on Tuesday he plans to be back next season as Michigan State’s head coach, the future of his assistants won’t be clear for some time.
In the midst of a five-game skid and another frustrating season, Dantonio, in his 13th year leading the Spartans, said he fully intends to remain the head coach, saying, “I don’t think I’m finished.”
That might not be the case for at least some of his assistants.
“I don't make decisions on that until I weigh out everything the best that I can,” Dantonio said. “Probably I have the most knowledge in terms of what's going on within our football team as to who did what in terms of was that a player (issue), structure, coaching, officiating, all the underlying things that go along with that.
“I think that I've tried to figure out what worked, what didn't work, how to critique it, what was in control, out of our control, how do I evaluate that. I've always made those decisions after the fact. That's what I'll continue to do to the best of my ability.”
Michigan State’s defensive assistants are all currently on two-year contracts, including coordinator, assistant head coach and linebackers coach Mike Tressel. Also in that group is defensive ends coach Chuck Bullough, defensive tackles coach Ron Burton, secondary coach Paul Haynes and assistant defensive backs coach Terrence Samuel.
The offensive staff are on one-year deals, including coordinator and running backs coach Brad Salem, quarterbacks coach Dave Warner, offensive line coach Jim Bollman, tight ends and special teams coordinator Mark Staten and wide receivers coach Don Treadwell.
All of the assistants’ contracts are rolling deals and will automatically extend for another season on April 1 each year. However, if the university notifies the coaches between the end of the season and March 15 they will not be retained, the contracts expire.
Most of coaching questions seem to surround the offensive staff, one Dantonio opted to simply reshuffle last summer. It was an odd move, simply moving pieces around instead of making significant changes as Salem went from quarterbacks coach to coordinator. Ten games into the season, it’s a move that hasn’t paid off as Michigan State ranks 110th in the nation in scoring offense (21.8 points), 107th in total offense (351.3 yards) and 114th in rushing offense (123.2 yards).
Defensively, things have started to crumble, as well. Normally one of the best units in the country, the Spartans remain solid against the run but aren’t getting after the quarterback and are allowing big play after big play, including late in a pair of close losses to Arizona State and Illinois.
It’s left the largest level of uncertainty in the Michigan State staff since Dantonio took over in 2007, though Dantonio believes he’s the guy to get it back on track, regardless of who the assistants are.
The current assistants say their only focus now is on beating Rutgers.
“I think you kind of live in a cave a little bit as a coach,” Salem said, “so you’re really worried about Rutgers. It’s just getting ourselves back on a winning track. It’s been a while and I think it’s hard emotionally for players and coaches, so you just want to get ourselves back on a positive track.”
Even with a fuzzy future, the belief is everyone is on the same page. That’s what Tressel talked about when he referenced an interview with linebacker Antjuan Simmons after the Michigan loss, saying there is no doubt in the leadership of the program.
“There was zero hesitation,” Tressel said. “He snapped back, ‘Yes, I absolutely believe in this program, in Coach Dantonio and everyone in it.’ That’s how we feel. There’s no doubt, that’s how we feel.
“But right now today, what we need to do is make sure we play above our potential. That’s what we’ve always said. If we do that, we will A, be happy, and B, be good. So that’s what the focus is now.”
Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Nailor was back in uniform last week against Michigan but did not play. He’s been out since suffering a leg injury between the first and second games of the season.
However, Dantonio expects the speedy receiver to play Saturday at Rutgers.
“Jalen could have possibly played some, but he hadn't practiced,” Dantonio said. “He really only practiced on Thursday. He hadn't been hit, jostled around. Ball security, those type of things. Wanted to give an extra week to get his feet on the ground. But he'll play. He practiced yesterday. He'll play in this football game.”
With only one game played, Dantonio also said it’s possible Nailor could use this season as a redshirt.
Junior cornerback Josiah Scott was injured on the second play from scrimmage last week at Michigan but was listed as the starter this week on the depth chart. Tressel confirmed he expected Scott to play this week.
… Junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk can play after getting ejected in the second half last week when he hit Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson late, but that doesn’t guarantee his playing time.
“Based on the rules he’s able to play,” Tressel said. “Whether he’s in there at the get-go, that’s up to Coach Dantonio.”