There’s wasn’t a whole lot of convincing necessary for Mike Tressel and Ron Burton to stick around.
Both had been a part of Mark Dantonio’s staff at Michigan State during one of the most successful runs in program history and neither was inclined to leave, even after Dantonio announced his retirement in February after 13 seasons.
So, when Mel Tucker started identifying who would make up his staff as the Spartans’ new head coach, Tressel and Burton were at the top of the list.
“I’m a Spartan,” Tressel said Wednesday during a teleconference. “I bleed green, so I’m glad he wanted me to stick around.”
Tressel had been with Dantonio all 13 years at Michigan State, as well as three years at Cincinnati before that. But it was his prior relationship with Tucker that helped seal the deal.
“I was a defensive back graduate assistant at Ohio State,” Tressel explained. “Coach Tuck coached the defensive backs, Coach Dantonio was actually the defensive coordinator at that time, so I was with him for two years and we worked directly together. So that relationship was already there.”
Burton had never worked with Tucker, but even after he reportedly was set to take the defensive line coaching job at Indiana, Burton’s connection to Michigan State won out.
“It’s great to be a Spartan,” Burton said. “I’ve been here seven years. When the opportunity was asked by me to stay, I wanted to be on the staff with Mel Tucker. It’s just been something that when you enjoy where you are, you want to continue it; you want to make it even better than what it is. He presented that to me and my family and we wholeheartedly wanted to stay.”
Tressel and Burton were the only two holdovers from last season’s staff, but the return of Harlon Barnett to coach cornerbacks rounds out a trio of Dantonio assistants who have provided at least some continuity for the program, specifically the players.
“There is some knowledge,” Tressel said. “But we’re also trying to push our limits and make sure we don’t look at the way it’s been done or look at what previous ceilings might have been, and try to bust through with all the new knowledge that’s in the coaching staff.”
In 2019, Tressel also served as assistant head coach and was in charge of the program when Dantonio retired. He was interested in making that move permanent, but the Spartans opted to hire Tucker.
“I think anybody would be foolish not to be interested in the Michigan State head coaching job,” he said. “Certainly, there was interest.”
Now, Tressel will be making a significant adjustment. He coached linebackers for the bulk of his time with Dantonio while adding co-defensive coordinator duties with Barnett from 2015-17 before becoming the sole coordinator the last two seasons.
Under Tucker, however, Tressel will be coaching safeties, teaming up with Barnett once again.
“We’re like brothers and really do play off each other’s strengths and work really well together,” Tressel said.
It’s the first time since his graduate assistant days at Ohio State that Tressel has focused on the secondary, but he said he’s been putting more focus there the last couple of seasons as a coordinator.
“The last few years coordinating, the back-end is where you give up the big plays, so that has to be your focus,” Tressel said. “I’ve really transitioned my focus over the last few years to pay a little bit more of attention and have a little bit more game plan thoughts, a little bit more adjustments, a little more technique in the back-end, knowing that’s where the explosives happen. I’m excited to be able to grow a little bit myself working with the safeties.”
Burton’s role won’t be all that different. He’s focused on defensive tackles the last three seasons after spending the first four coaching the entire defensive line. He’ll be back to coaching both tackles and ends under defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton.
“Defense is knowing where your help is,” Burton said. “I’m looking at it all the time and I started out my first four years here having the whole defensive line and have always been that way. It’s what it’s all about; the front four. Not a big transition.
“I do have help from our graduate assistant and our DC Scottie Hazelton, we’re all a part of it. This has been terrific and not much of a change for me because you’re looking at it totally the same.”
While there’s no telling when the Spartans will get back to the business of football, Tucker’s staff is doing its best to bring together different voices and different schemes.
“I just enjoy it,” Burton said. “It’s just like going to graduate school and you’re heading toward your PhD in football. These guys have a lot of knowledge.”