Dantonio's record win gets Michigan State out of 'the dumps'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio had to wait an unexpected week, but the win over Northwestern moved him past Duffy Daugherty into first place on Michigan State's all-time victories list.

Evanston, Ill. — The players went looking for the Gatorade buckets on Saturday afternoon, but the water had already been dumped out.

There would be no soaking for head coach Mark Dantonio, who had just won his 110th game as Michigan State’s coach to surpass Duffy Daugherty and become the winningest coach in program history. The 31-10 victory over Northwestern had long been decided, but this would be a dry celebration.

“I was ready for that,” Dantonio said with a smile.

Added quarterback Brian Lewerke, “We had the chance we wanted to pour some water on him, but they dumped out the coolers before we could. Kind of sucks.”

The win didn’t suck. It was, after all, as thorough a victory as a team could have. There were mistakes. An early fumble gave Northwestern a scoring chance and there were five penalties, but overall Michigan State controlled the game on both sides of the ball. The offense was 5-for-5 in the red zone and the defense forced three turnovers and had a goal-line stand.

That it came a week later than most expected might have nixed a celebration at Spartan Stadium, but it didn’t change the feeling in the locker room.

“You walked into that locker room and you see the families in there, the smiles and hugs and kisses everything like that,” senior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “That’s when you know it's awesome. For the guy who recruited me to come here to see him do that in my time here is awesome.”

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It was a similar feeling for Lewerke, now in his fifth season in the program.

Lewerke wore a hat to the postgame press conference commemorating the milestone, but he said you could have never have noticed anything was different with Dantonio the past couple of weeks.

“We were just focused on getting a win starting 1-0 in the Big Ten,” Lewerke said. “To be honest, he didn't mention it one time, I don't think. We kind of wanted to get it last week, but you know, we were just focused on starting the Big Ten season off well.”

There’s little doubt that focus was tested this week.

On Thursday, the deposition of former staffer Curtis Blackwell in his case against Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon was released, and it included some serious allegations about how Dantonio handled the recruiting of former player Auston Robertson.

Blackwell is suing for wrongful termination after his contract was not renewed in early 2017, and said Dantonio was warned by assistant coaches Dave Warner and Ron Burton to not bring Robertson on campus because of issues he had with sexual assault while in high school in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Dantonio responded on Friday with a statement denying Blackwell’s termination was over Robertson, who was dismissed from the team and is now serving jail time for sexual assault.

“Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017,” Dantonio said in the statement. “Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements. Further, there have been multiple investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assaults, including Jones Day in 2017 and the NCAA in 2018, and they concluded that the program and myself committed no violations.

“With regard to Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit, because the litigation is ongoing, I have no further comment on this matter and refer all questions to my counsel.”

There was no talk of the lawsuit from Dantonio after Saturday's game as he celebrated with family and friends. Burton and Warner were also unavailable after the game to comment on their inclusion in Blackwell’s claims.

Whether it was on Dantonio’s mind was hard to say, but it didn’t appear to weigh on him and it didn’t affect his players’ feelings.

“It is definitely special,” junior cornerback Josiah Scott said. “Looking back at all of his wins and just it connects you with a whole bunch of guys from when he first got here in 2007. So, it really is a big win because it connects all of us together.”

As he’s done often over the past few weeks, Dantonio reminded everyone the record was not his alone.

“Can't get there without players,” said Dantonio, who also thanked his family, administrators and boosters of the program. “Can't get there without coaches, you can't get there without the past players and current players. And this is a very special group of players that we have. I really believe that. Now, does that translate into wins and losses, or wins? I don't know. But it's a special group of people and I do think you win with chemistry, you always have a chance if you’ve got chemistry.”

That chemistry was clear on Saturday.

Even as distractions mounted, the Spartans were dialed in. The mood wasn’t dampened.

Now, if someone could just find a jug full of water.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau