In deposition, MSU's Mark Dantonio praises Curtis Blackwell's mentoring but cites 'disconnect'
While Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio acknowledged in his court-ordered deposition that Curtis Blackwell was an admirable mentor to student-athletes, his year-to-year contract wasn't renewed because of a "disconnect" between the recruiting department and the rest of the coaching staff, according to federal court filings.
Dantonio's deposition transcript has yet to be released to the public — and it might not be at all if a judge goes by precedent in this case — but parts were summarized by Dantonio's attorneys in a filing Monday.
Responding to Blackwell's attorneys' request for another hour and five minutes of questioning with Dantonio, the coach's attorneys argue it's unnecessary.
In their argument, they also summarized from Dantonio's deposition three reasons why Blackwell was let go in May 2017.
The reasons, according to Dantonio's deposition, which took place Jan. 10 at a federal courthouse in Grand Rapids:
►In April 2017, the NCAA made a rules change prohibiting satellite football camps. Given Blackwell was hired for his connections — he co-founded and ran the popular Detroit Sound Mind Sound Body camps — his value had been diminished. Dantonio's attorneys cite a "philosophical" change, the reason used at the time of Blackwell's employment termination.
►There had been a "disconnect" between the recruiting department, which Blackwell ran, and the rest of the coaching staff. Dantonio said he was made aware of this during Blackwell's suspension, which ran from the time of his arrest in early February 2017 — he was arrested, but never charged for obstructing an investigation into a January party at which three MSU football players allegedly sexually assaulted a female — and the end of his employment, in May 2017.
►Dantonio said he had to decide quickly whether to permanently hire Sheldon White, whose long football career spanned an NFL playing career and a post-playing career that included coaching and player-evaluation experience. (He briefly served as interim general manager of the Detroit Lions.) Dantonio said he felt White could cover Blackwell's roles, and add "considerable additional value." White now is Michigan State's executive director of player personnel and recruiting.
Blackwell, 42, was hired by Michigan State in 2013 and drew consistent praise from Dantonio for landing several highly acclaimed recruits, he never received a negative remark in an annual review and his salary rose more than $40,000 during his tenure.
In the most recent court filing, Dantonio's lawyers said Dantonio, in his deposition, did acknowledge Blackwell "did well mentoring students."
But Blackwell was suspended following his February 2017 arrest, and let go four months later. He said he was made a "scapegoat" by a university that felt a need to act swiftly and decisively in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal. Blackwell also felt he was being punished for invoking his Fifth Amendment rights by not speaking to MSU Police after he was arrested, and not speaking to the Jones Day law firm that was hired to independently investigate the football program's reaction and reporting of sexual-assault allegations.
Dantonio, publicly, cited the "philosophical" differences and continues to insist his termination had nothing to do with the fallout from the January 2017 party nor the recruitment of Auston Robertson, which has become a major issue in court filings.
It's not yet clear if Dantonio's full deposition transcript will be made public. A judge previously sealed part of Hollis', as well as full depositions by two MSU Police officers.
Blackwell is suing Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis, former president Lou Anna K. Simon and the university for wrongful termination, and he is suing and seeking as much as $5.5 million from the two arresting MSU Police officers for wrongful arrest.