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Mark Dantonio coached 'the greatest modern era of Michigan State football'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

During the course of his 13-year career at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio became the program’s winningest coach, won three Big Ten titles, was twice Big Ten Coach of the Year, had six bowl wins, including a coveted Rose Bowl victory, and made a College Football Playoff appearance.

Dantonio, who announced his retirement Tuesday afternoon, finished his Michigan State career with a 114-57 record, breaking Hall-of-Fame coach Duffy Daugherty’s record 109 victories.

Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer called Dantonio a great tactician in a story in the Columbus Dispatch. Meyer, who retired from coaching after the 2018 season, expressed shock upon hearing of Dantonio’s decision.

“Arguably the greatest era of Michigan State football — the modern era — is Mark Dantonio’s,” Meyer told the Dispatch.

While his coaching career at MSU has featured so many significant on-field achievements, Dantonio recently had dealt with off-field issues.

The program slipped the last two seasons with 7-6 records. The Spartans' win over Wake Forest in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl, the last game at MSU that Dantonio coached, was his sixth bowl win, tying him for fourth-most in Big Ten history.

Mark Dantonio

Dantonio was two-time Big Ten Coach of the year in 2010 and 2013 and directed the team to seven top-25 finishes, most in program history — the Spartans were No. 3 in the final 2013 poll and No. 5 in 2014.

He arrived at Michigan State in 2006 after coaching at Cincinnati and took over a program that lacked stability with coaches Bobby Williams and John L. Smith. He inherited a program coming off three straight losing seasons. Dantonio turned the Spartans program around, making them into a fearsome Big Ten contender and consistent winner.

In his first season, Michigan State went 7-6 in 2007, but there was a pivotal moment after the loss to rival Michigan. Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as the Wolverines’ “little brother” and Dantonio responded tersely: “It’s not over. It’ll never be over. It’s just starting.”

And with that, Dantonio and the Spartans not only changed the course of the rivalry with Michigan — his teams held an 8-5 record against the Wolverines — but the course of the program feeding off disrespect and the proverbial chip-on-the-shoulder approach.

A year later, the Spartans delivered with their first nine-win season in nearly a decade. By 2011, Dantonio had led the team to the inaugural Big Ten championship game.

But, as Dantonio said, it was just starting.

The Spartans won the Big Ten in 2013 and played in their first Rose Bowl since 1988. The Spartans won in Pasadena and finished a remarkable 13-1 with a No. 3 national ranking. Michigan State hadn’t been ranked that high since Daugherty led the Spartans to a No. 2 ranking in 1966.

And Michigan State kept rolling. Dantonio guided the Spartans to a Cotton Bowl victory in 2014 and their 2015 Big Ten championship allowed MSU to climb higher, to a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. Michigan State was routed, 38-0 by Alabama in the semifinal, a low point in an otherwise stunning stretch for Dantonio.

The Spartans endured a difficult dip in 2016, finishing 3-9, but rebounded the following season and went 10-3, Dantonio’s sixth 10-win season.

Twitter: @chengelis

Dantonio by numbers

Mark Dantonio's 13 years at Michigan State