NFL's Spartans: Harbaugh won't break MSU hold on rivalry

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Garrett Celek has a unique perspective when it comes to the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry.

The 49ers tight end played under Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio from 2008-11 and spent his first three seasons in the NFL under Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco (2012-14).

“I think Harbaugh is a great coach,” said Celek, who was one of 15 former Spartans currently playing in the NFL on hand for Saturday’s Spartan Elite camp at the MSU football practice facility. “I know he’s a big competitor in the Big Ten. You’re going to have to fight to beat him.

“But Michigan State does that every year. I expect nothing but the best from him. Playing for him for a couple years, I know what type of coach he is and I have a lot of respect for him.”

Other Spartan alumni don’t quite share Celek’s view. Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes said Harbaugh isn’t going to single-handedly shift the momentum in the rivalry, one that Michigan State has dominated in recent years. `MSU has won seven of the last eight meetings and the past three, including last season’s thrilling 27-23 win that ended with Michigan State returning a blocked punt for a touchdown as time expired.

“They’ve been saying that the past how many coaches they had? How many coaches have they had recently that have changed the program?” Waynes said. “It’s something that we’ll just have to see. I can’t really make any predictions on it, but I definitely think Harbaugh will make the rivalry more interesting.”

Harbaugh has been nothing short of interesting since taking over at Michigan last season, from his satellite camp tours and Twitter barbs. Yet no matter what Harbaugh does in terms of recruiting or how many headlines he garners, Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard said it won’t make a difference.

“Coach Harbaugh got his own methods, but I don’t think it’ll help him because he’s still at that terrible school down the street,” Dennard said. “(Dantonio) has been successful for the last five years and he’s going to continue doing what he’s doing.

“We’ve been to a BCS game, been to the first college football playoff, so there’s proof in the pudding. He just needs to continue what he’s doing and I think he will.”

Michigan State had roughly 200 high school seniors at its one-day senior camp and so far has nine commitments for its 2017 class, a number that will increase as the recruiting season ramps up. Michigan, meanwhile, has 15 players in its 2017 class after four-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon reportedly committed on Saturday.

Michigan’s 2016 class ranked fourth in the nation by, No. 5 by 247Sports and No. 6 by, while Michigan State’s was rated No. 18 by all three recruiting services.

Yet Dantonio has had plenty of success when it comes to finding the right players to fit into his system, particularly the less heralded prospects who get overlooked. One of those is Broncos receiver Bennie Fowler, who only had offers from MSU, Indiana, Toledo and Eastern Michigan out of high school.

“Dantonio and his staff do a great job (recruiting). They follow football players and stars don’t mean anything,” Fowler said. “It doesn’t mean you can play football, it just means somebody said this about you. But can you play football? That’s what he develops. He develops football players and men.”

In a recent article by’s Chase Goodbread, Dantoino was ranked the fourth-best college coach at developing NFL talent, behind Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban.

“Man, (Dantonio’s) just building. He just continues to build,” Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett said. “He’s been doing it for a while now and we’re still growing. He’s never satisfied, never complacent on his game or the success they have captured.

“He’s going to keep it going and that’s the good thing about Coach D. He’s always finding the little kinks and pieces that’s going to make you a better team no matter if you won the Rose Bowl or win the Big Ten championship. There’s always areas to get better in and that’s what he always seems to find.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins