East Lansing — Troy Distelrath started going to Michigan State football games when he was 6 months old. Standing near Spartan Stadium on Tuesday, the sophomore from St. Clair tried to wrap his mind around the idea of the team without its longtime coach, Mark Dantonio.
"Basically, everything I remember is Dantonio," Distelrath said. "Everything must come to an end. And it was time, probably, but you don’t want to see it happen."
That same mix of emotions was expressed by many Michigan State students on Tuesday as news spread across the campus that Dantonio, who'd been the team's head coach for 13 years, was retiring.
“Every February since 2007, I have reset this program in preparation for the next year’s challenges," Dantonio posted on social media Tuesday. "After much reflection and discussion with my family, I feel that it is now time for change as we enter into a new decade of Michigan State football."
Many students said they were sad about the news but it was also time for a change after a 7-6 season in 2019.
Jack Birmingham, a freshman from Rochester, found out Dantonio was stepping down through a text message from his brother. He described the decision as "shocking."
Birmingham said his favorite Dantonio memory was seeing the coach hold up a trophy after winning the Rose Bowl in 2014.
“Hopefully, Dantonio’s legacy lives on here,” Birmingham said.
Peyton Waaso, a senior from St. Joseph, was less shocked.
“I’ve kinda been waiting for the last couple seasons," she said.
Waaso said she was curious what shape the coaching staff would take going forward: would the school reshuffle current members of the staff or hire in new people? Waaso said she was hoping for new faces.
Other students described their classmates as being upset with how the Spartans had performed on the field in recent years while also appreciating Dantonio's work to build the team.
His career record at Michigan State was 114-57. But the Spartans were 7-6 in each of the last two seasons.
“I always hear people, whenever we lose, complain about him,” said Sean Gordon, a freshman from Connecticut.
While the time for change may have come, Alex Kintner, who had just left a senior capstone class where the coaching news was discussed, said, “We respect the legacy, obviously."
Kagi Farrell, a senior from East Lansing, said Dantonio had been a great coach for a long time and made the Spartans into a powerful team. But, Farrell said, it was Dantonio's moment to take a step back.
"I think his stepping down was also him knowing, ‘OK, my time here has come to an end,'" Farrell said.
Asked if it was sad to see Dantonio go or if it was time to turn the page, Distelrath, the sophomore from St. Clair, responded to both ideas with a laugh and simply “yes."
Distelrath said he was shocked by the news. He said one of his favorite days of his life was going with his grandfather to watch the Spartans play in the Rose Bowl in 2014.
Like others, he thanked Dantonio for what he described as "great memories."