Dantonio has 'culture of winning' in 10th year at MSU
East Lansing – Coaches aren't ones to pause and reflect, especially not college coaches, given everything's always changing, especially the personnel.
But Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio couldn't help himself to reflect, if only for a few moments, on his time on the job, which in 2016 reaches 10 years.
"Another 10?" Dantonio said with a smile Monday during MSU's media day. "I don't know about 10. I got something left in me."
That's welcome news to a Spartan fan base that’s mostly never gotten to see a run like Michigan State has been on, especially the last six seasons.
Dantonio is 87-33 at Michigan State, 52-20 in the Big Ten. That includes trips to bowl games in all nine of his seasons, including a Rose Bowl victory following the 2013 season, plus three Big Ten championships, and an appearance in last season's College Football Playoff semifinals.
Under Dantonio, Michigan State has had five double-digit-win seasons in the last six years.
"We can sell results, we really can," Dantonio said, in an often-repeated phrase. "We can sit there and say, 'This is what we've done, these are the things you can look forward to if you come to school at Michigan State. There's opportunities for you.'
"That's really the difference there. Early on in the process, that was not the case. But now it seems like that's what we sell."
When Dantonio, 60, took over the Michigan State program following a three-year run at Cincinnati (2004-06), he took over a team that had just finished in last place in the Big Ten, hadn't finished a season in the national top 25 in seven seasons, and hadn't won a Big Ten title since 1990.
Heck, the Spartans rarely could threaten to finish in first place in the state of Michigan.
MSU has now beaten Michigan seven times in the last eight years, something that had never happened before.
"Yeah, it's hard to imagine. Growing up watching Michigan State, we were kind of happy being a .500 team or something like that," said senior linebacker Riley Bullough, a Spartans fan since his youth, given the family's roots in the program. "We didn't expect to win back then.
"That's kind of how it is now. The expectations are high. We go into each game expecting to win. I think that's the main difference."
There's been enough memorable MSU moments under Dantonio to fill a book.
There's been pointed quotes ("Pride comes before the fall"); stunning late-game heroics (Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Baylor); Dantonio even suffered a heart attack following one of the crazy celebrations following a win over Notre Dame.
Mostly, there's just been wins, in bunches. You have to go all the way back eight coaches before Dantonio, all the way back to Duffy Daugherty, to find a coach who won 10 games in a season, in 1965. Nick Saban won nine in 1999, but left for LSU before the bowl game, which was won with Bobby Williams at the helm.
"It's a statement for your program that you're here to stay," Dantonio said. "Go back to what you talk about, your culture. Culture is consistency, whether that's winning or losing. It's doing something over and over.
"Right now, we have a culture of winning. We need to continue to do that."
To do that this season, Michigan State, breaking in a new quarterback among other key positions, will have to disprove the analysts, who like Ohio State and Michigan better than the Spartans entering the season.
But that's been the case before, and the Spartans have made the experts look silly many times under Dantonio.
He doesn't bring that up much, though. He doesn't like to talk about the past; there'll be time for reflection after he retires, whether that's in three years or five years or even 10 more.
Like most college coaches, he likes to look forward – especially since the ultimate goal, a national championship, remains pretty much all that's left on a lofty to-do list that seemed unrealistic back when John L. Smith was slapping himself or when Williams couldn't say if he lost his players – or even 10 years ago when Dantonio came back to where he was once an up-and-coming defensive assistant.
But, impressively, that list has mostly come to fruition, even if the torching by Alabama in the semifinals still burns hot.
"I guess 10 seems like a long time," Dantonio said. "At the other end of the spectrum, you're always starting over. You're sort of fresh. You've got new players. It sort of keeps you moving forward.
"That's the excitement in college football. That's the nature of it. I think being an NFL coach for 10 years would seem a little bit longer than maybe being a college coach for 10 years, just because there's always a newness to the program. We have new facilities, new players. We've had some new coaches, not many. But there's always a little bit of something in the program that's stepping forward."
MARK DANTONIO AT MSU
2007 -- 7-6, 3-5 (lost Champs Sports Bowl)
2008 -- 9-4, 6-2 (lost Capital One Bowl)
2009 -- 6-7, 4-4 (lost Alamo Bowl)
2010 -- 11-2, 7-1 (lost Capital One Bowl)
2011 -- 11-3, 7-1 (won Outback Bowl)
2012 -- 7-6, 3-5 (won Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
2013 -- 13-1, 8-0 (won Rose Bowl)
2014 -- 11-2, 7-1 (won Cotton Bowl)
2015 -- 12-2, 7-1 (lost Cotton Bowl -- national semifinal)