Lansing – During his presentation Friday at the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Clinic at the Lansing Center, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio talked about change being inevitable.
However, more than three weeks after the Spartans’ season ended with a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl, there has been no indication Dantonio is planning to make any adjustments to his staff. Following his presentation, he refused to speak to reporters, further prolonging the guessing game.
Walking out of the room on Friday holding a whistle he used in his presentation, Dantonio remained silent, as he has been ever since the season concluded with a second straight 7-6 record and an offense that ranked among the worst in the nation, a trend that has continued since Michigan State reached the College Football Playoffs in 2015.
“Expectations are very high,” he told the crowd of prep coaches. “It’s a labor of love … but you’ve got to win, gotta make changes, and I understand those types things as we go forward. You’ve got to bring people along and make sure they do the very best they can do.
“You’ve got to go to work. You’ve got to go to work.”
Whether he goes to work with the same staff or not remains unclear, but speculation of changes ahead mounted throughout the season as the losses piled up and the Spartans fell out of contention in the Big Ten. However, after simply reshuffling his staff last season and moving quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator, no moves have been announced, even as other teams around the country fill vacancies and announce their own staff changes.
After the end of the regular season, Dantonio was asked about his staff the night the Spartans accepted their bid to the Pinstripe Bowl. He referenced the success Michigan State has had in the past with primarily the same staff.
“That's an after-the-season thing as we move forward,” Dantonio said. “Right now, my focus is on signing our class, getting in for a bowl game, student-athlete experience, winning a football game and winning the bowl game.
“I will say this as I said earlier, when I sat back and watched the (Big Ten championship) and put myself back at that point in time, I had a lot of people who were back in that point in time with me. I'll make those decisions, and we'll make those decisions and sit down and think about those types of things after the season.”
On Dec. 18, the start of the early signing period, Dantonio said, “We're talking about recruiting right now. That's where my focus is.”
There was no mention of the staff following the 27-21 victory over Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl, and since then, nothing.
Curtis Blackwell was let go by Michigan State football in May 2017. Now, he's speaking out, and battling coach Mark Dantonio and others in court. The Detroit News
There’s been plenty going on the keep Dantonio busy since the season ended. There’s putting the final touches on the 2020 recruiting class ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 3, and Dantonio was also deposed last Friday in the lawsuit filed by former staffer Curtis Blackwell, in which Blackwell claims he was wrongfully terminated over the handling of reports of sexual assault involving players.
But the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention concluded this week. It's a prime spot to network with other coaches, and it’s a perfect time to finalize staffs with recruiting in full swing and spring practice less than two months away.
Change would seem inevitable for Michigan State, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. The Spartans finished the 2019 season 95th in total offense, 104th in scoring offense, 112th in rushing offense and 114th in red-zone touchdown percentage. That production just continued the trend as Michigan State’s offense ranked 104th in 2016, 96th in 2017 and 126th in 2018 in scoring.
The only thing those numbers led to was moving the pieces around in January 2019. In addition to Salem becoming the offensive coordinator, Dave Warner went from co-coordinator to quarterbacks coach, Jim Bollman moved from co-coordinator to offensive line, Mark Staten went from offensive line to tight ends, Terrence Samuel shifted from wide receivers to assistant defensive backs, and Don Treadwell took over receivers after helping with the secondary the season before.
Those coaches also had their two-year contracts changed to one-year deals and they must be notified by March 15 whether their deals will be extended.
Dantonio has long preached continuity as one of the main reasons for Michigan State’s success, highlighted by the three-year run from 2013-15 that included 36-5 record with two Big Ten titles and a playoff appearance.
But as the game has changed, Michigan State has not adapted. Others have as LSU won the national championship a year after going 10-3 but bringing in Joe Brady to take over the passing game. It’s a move that helped to not only go undefeated, but aided quarterback Joe Burrow in winning the Heisman Trophy.
Moves like that are imperative, Alabama coach Nick Saban said on the pregame show before the national championship.
“You’re a defensive-minded coach and you grew up running the ball, being conservative, playing good defense and winning games — and the game changed,” Saban said. “When RPOs came and everybody spread it out, the game changed. And if you don’t join that crowd, you’re never going to be able to make enough explosive plays in a game and score enough points.”
Saban might as well have been speaking directly to his former defensive backs coach, but whether Dantonio is willing to make those changes or not, he’s still not saying.