Transcript of Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio’s media session during Day 2 of the Big Ten Media Days.
Dantonio’s opening statement: First off, I'd like to express our condolences to the Mike Sadler family and also to Sam Foltz and Husker Nation as well. What occurred on Sunday is very tragic in regards to Mike. He was a giver. He lived life. There was no take in Mike Sadler. He made everybody's life around him better. We'll miss him terribly.
But back to football. I think we've built a culture at Michigan State right now. I think we're 36-5 in the last three years, 24-2 in the Big Ten Conference.
As you've heard, we've sort of set the table in terms of what we have to do every year. So right now our focus is trying to go back to back, and I'll take questions.
Q. Mark, at the end of spring, Riley (Bullough) and Jon Reschke talked a lot about Chris Frey and how the three of them had run as the ones all spring and so did Mike Tressel. The depth chart came out he was number two behind Andrew (Dowell). Can you tell us what happened since the spring that he would lose that?
Dantonio: I think what we've tried to do is basically put our players -- we have extremely talented linebacker situation. Ed Davis can be thrown into that. Andrew Dowell. They're all starters. We have what I consider five starters. Shane Jones is another guy I think can go in there and start. Byron Bullough is another guy that had an outstanding spring.
I think we're very deep at the linebacker position. Depth charts are depth charts. It's a starting point. Why that occurred is up to Coach Tressel, but as far as I'm concerned Chris Frey is a starter as well. He plays multiple positions. He plays SAM, plays STAR -- multiple.
Q. Mark, according to the roster yesterday, I think LJ Scott's down about eight or nine pounds. Madre London down about 14, 15 pounds. Was that by design for those guys? Are you looking for them to get a little quicker; is that something that you talked about when the season was over your thoughts about them losing weight?
Dantonio: Every football player on our football player tries to get themselves ready for camp and progress as a football. LJ, I thought, was a little too heavy. Played at 235 last year, much like Le'Veon Bell did. We saw what a drop in weight could do for Le'Veon. I think LJ looks very good right now at 224. And Gerald Holmes is up there at 225. And Madre is in that ballpark as well. So I think we have three tailbacks. Delton Williams, I think, also has returned with some things that he's got going for him. As previous years he was very successful as well.
So I think we have -- our tailback situation is very, very solid. So get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to say you gotta come in at 220 or 230, but you've got to come in and be ready to go.
Q. You guys have had as you mentioned such a great amount of success over the last few years. What are you guys doing just kind of inside the culture of your program to be able to keep that going and make that consistent and kind of maybe avoid the pitfalls that other programs that aren't lifelong blue bloods, where they've just had a few good years and fallen back down. How do you guys combat that?
Dantonio: I think the first thing we've been able to do is retain our staff. I think that happens because of our administration. So we thank our administration for that and also that happens basically out of, I think we have good environment to work in.
So we've not had a lot of attrition. Going into our 10th year we've had five coaches leave over the period of that time. Three have become head coaches and one went to the NFL.
So that's number one. The second thing that has occurred is that we've gotten great senior leadership every year. We lose good players every year, just like every other program. But it seems that when the time comes, as a senior, you have to play your best football, our seniors have their best years. You look at Aaron Burbridge last year, having his best year, catching 82 passes or whatever it was. And the year before that Tony Lippett. You look at what Connor Cook was able to do.
We've got guys poised for that. Again, we've established a culture. We've lost some good players. I think we have 31 players back with some type of starting experience. Maybe it's like 15 on offense, like 13 or 14 or so on defense that we would consider starters.
We've had a great recruiting class and built those classes on top of each other. So we'll play some young players at certain positions, certainly wide receiver you're going to see young players playing.
But I think all those things sort of blend into it. And our guys expect to win.
Q. What can you say about Lovie Smith and what he brings to the Big Ten Conference?
Dantonio: I don't know Lovie that well but I think his track record as a football coach is very well received. Obviously a great football coach, heard great things about him as a person. And I believe that the University of Illinois found themselves a great football coach.
Q. You mentioned the seniors, and I know you've built your culture around having your seniors have their best years. So what was your first message to them maybe in the aftermath after the loss to Alabama?
Dantonio: That game sort of got out of hand. My wife tells me, get over it. She says, get over it, you lost. But I thought it was a competitive game in the first half.
But what I said to our football team is, hey, we've gone this far, but there's still a ways we have to go. Don't hang your head. Let's get on with business. Life's full of ups and downs. There's going to be down times. To me it's how you handle the down times that define you.
It's easy to walk around when you've won. More difficult when you've had a loss and you have to regain your composure and you have to move forward with the process.
So Michigan State's always been about the process. This is just a stepping stone. That was a step back down the staircase. Time to take another step up.
Q. Is quarterback the biggest question mark you have going into camp as far as naming a starter or do you have that already in mind?
Dantonio: You always have things in mind, I think, but I think our quarterback position is -- lost a lot of experience, obviously, but I think it's a very talented position. We've got four guys that I think are Big Ten-type quarterbacks that are big, athletic guys that can move, run, and also can throw the football. So Tyler O'Connor is a fifth-year senior. He's been in the system four years, been behind a great quarterback. He's been waiting his opportunity. Performed very well down in Columbus last year.
And Damion Terry, 6-4, 235, very athletic. Brian Lewerke, very talented, he was a redshirt freshman this year. And Messiah deWeaver is a true freshman that was here this semester. All four of those guys have great ability.
But we're going to keep the pressure on our quarterback position and on our quarterback coach, Brad Salem. I think that's the thing to do right now. Not dependent on one guy. Not to say, hey, he's our guy. That will be defined through August camp and early in the season. But we're going to give people opportunities.
But Tyler obviously is in the lead right now, but I'm not going to have the pressure put on one position to say this is the make or break guy. That's just the way we're going to do it at this point in time.
Q. James Franklin was speaking to the Reading Eagle and alluded to negative recruiting of Michigan State towards Penn State. For those that have known you for a long time that does not seem your MO. Can you address that? Is that something you guys have done or not?
Dantonio: I know we have a lot of reporters here. Everybody's got a pen. But from my standpoint, I have not said anything negative about Penn State. And hopefully our coaches have not as well.
So I was surprised to read that. I don't know what happens out there on the road completely. But it's not our MO. And that's not how we do business.
Q. You've had a lot of great defensive players come through there in the last two years. Can you describe the kind of impact (Malik) McDowell has and potential he has for the coming season?
Dantonio: Malik is a playmaker. No question about that. He's big, athletic, physical. He comes to play every game. And with all that being said he's only going to be, you know he's going to be a true junior. He had a big sophomore season last year. Played some as a freshman.
So I think that this is the year that sort of catapults him. So he's got to have a great year and I think he's poised to do that. I think we also have some other great defensive players on our football team that we can build around. Ed Davis working for his sixth year. Has to graduate to do that. He's currently in a class to do that and doing well.
He's a phenomenal football player. Riley Bullough, guys all over the place. We've lost some good players but we've got a lot of good football players coming back. As I said earlier I think we have seven starters from last year's secondary coming back as seven guys who started for us that are very athletic. So we're looking forward to a great football season.
Q. You just mentioned Riley Bullough, does he remind you of Max in some ways? Does he resist comparisons? How do you and the staff handle that?
Dantonio: They're two different people. They're two different players. But then with that being said, they're from the same line. Football is very important to them. They're going to study the game hard. They're going to know where they're supposed to be at and be at that place at the right time.
But different players, Riley is a more sideline-to-sideline guy and Max more has power and a thumper a little bit. But both guys are extremely great leaders and we're going to look forward to what he brings us this year. But he's ready to go. I can tell you he's ready to go and he's an exciting player to watch and the whole Bullough family and Holly, I've got to give her a little bit of a bump there, but Holly, their sister is coming to Michigan State and I keep hearing she's the best athlete of all of them. So she'll run track for us.
Q. I think five of the last six years your team has won at least 11 games. I think 90 percent of your returning roster has only been associated with winning 11 games. Do you notice in the offseason the way they handle themselves different than maybe five, six, eight, nine, 10 years ago when they had that kind of background?
Dantonio: Yeah, I do. There's a culture there as we talked about earlier, expectation is there to win and the confidence is there to win. When we come down to -- when we come down the line at the end of a football game and there was an opportunity to win, our players know how to win. So when the game has been close we found a way. Won a lot of close football games.
With that being said, we've got some guys that should be on first and have been born on third. In other words, they've not experienced -- they've experienced all the good but they haven't seen too much of the difficult. So we've got to get those guys primed. Our younger players. All they've seen is the last three years of what we've been able to accomplish. Our fifth-year seniors they've seen some other things where in 2012 how we had to get ready and everything.
So I think you have to be able to handle the bad times as well as the good. You've got to be able to gear yourself up and understand that these things aren't a given; that you've got to play and you've got to work hard to be able to gain credibility and to win, win football games. So that's our expectation and that's what we'll do.