Mark Dantonio: Looking back to his hiring

November 27, 2006. A little more than five years ago.

The search finally was completed, and Mark Dantonio was introduced as the new coach at Michigan State.The board of trustees, LouAnna K. Simon and former athletic director Ron Mason spoke about him before giving way for his first press conference as the Spartans head coach.

He spoke on the X’s and O’s, his schemes, his past and every other topic a new football coach is required to talk about in such a moment.

But, within his speech, he listed out five ways he would ask his players and the program to work toward success. He had a roadmap in his mind for them to succeed.

He issued challenges, both on the field and off the field, to the people in the program he had just inherited. Here they are:

1. “I think they’re the cornerstones of who we are as a program, what we’ll try to develop, what I try and develop every day. … I want them first to be good people and make good choices, to be morally correct. I’ll stand up here today and tell you that my faith is very, very important to me. Our players will have an opportunity to express that faith at any time they wish to do so.”

Despite having some ups and downs in his tenure so far, there is no doubt under Dantonio the program is filled with players who display strong character and leadership.

You could focus on Kirk Cousins, but we all know the stories about how he has been a three-time captain — even before he was a starter — and Dantonio recast the ballots to make sure the team meant to vote for him. He was the 2011 Lowe’s Senior Class Award winner and at Michigan State did everything from speaking at Campus Crusade to volunteering at Sparrow Hospital.

You could focus on Arthur Ray Jr. who through all of his surgeries and hardships with cancer has displayed strength and courage and was rewarded this season with the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl Courage Award.

Or even the group of players devoted to visiting sick children in the hospital.

Instead, look at Will Gholston, a player who was much maligned following the Michigan game for his actions, and the way he moved forward and showed through the rest of the season the player, and person, he really is. This is a young man with all the talent in the world and who made a mistake, but recognized it and dealt with consequences.

He manned up and went to shake Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s hand after the game and in the following week of practice, knowing he couldn’t play, volunteered to be on the scout team to help the offense prepare

And a player so excited about being at Michigan State he ran to Spartan Stadium as the Wisconsin game ended to celebrate with his teammates — his family.

2. “Second thing is I want our family to be together. … It’s important that our players’ families come together, they know me, our coaches personally. I want to always be able to reach back to somebody who is important in their life and touch them. .. I think it’s very important, whether you’re a manager, a trainer, a football player, you’re the starter, you’re the ninth guy on the team, the president of the university, you all need to show up with passion, you all need to show up with energy, you need to impact somebody else because that’s a personal choice. So family will be very, very important to us, as well.”

If there is one thing you can call the team in 2011, it was a family. From watching them jumping around on the sideline before overtime in the Outback Bowl to Joel Foreman getting Dantonio to start Ray in his place in the season opener against Youngstown State.

Foreman gave up the start, which would have left him with 50 at season’s end, and the Michigan State career record. Instead, his unselfishness and heart for a teammate, and fellow member of the 2007 recruiting class, led him to give a player who inspired him the thing he treasured most.

It runs deeper, in the week-to-week lives of the athletes and in the spontaneous opportunities to share with one another.

Having dinner as a group of offensive lineman is important for the team and their time together off the field helps them play better on the field, said junior Chris McDonald.

Freshman walk-on wide receiver Takudzwa Kubvoruno tweeted this shortly after Michigan State defeated Georgia in the Outback Bowl: “s/o to my bro @KeithNichol7 for the words of encouragement after the game, wishing him the best in life!”

In a moment and time for Nichol to celebrate his final game as a Spartan, his touchdown reception, spend time with his brother and his family, he had words to offer to a younger player for his future at Michigan State.

Even in the past week, the importance of being there for one’s physical family was evident in the newest Spartan DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett, who transferred back to Michigan from Tennessee, came to Michigan State to be closer to his father who has been suffering from various health issues. He wanted his father to be able to come to see him play and to be there for his family as they go through some hard times.

Then there is Jerel Worthy, who declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft a season early Thursday, wanting to help provide his father with proper medical care after he suffered a stroke in 2010.

“My father is dealing with a lot of issues, and that’s one thing that I want to try to do … helping him out and getting him back to being my father, the person that I’ve grown to know,” Worthy said.

But at the same time, Worthy felt strongly for his Spartan family and would have returned for his senior season had Michigan State lost its bowl game — feeling like he owed it to coach Dantonio and the program.

3. “We need to get bigger, stronger, faster to get to where we want to go. We need to be coached at the highest level. Regardless of where we have to go to find that expertise, football is a cutting edge type of game. … I also think that recruiting ties into that. We need to be able to recruit players that can play at the highest level, players that can play at the highest level. That means players that can play at the next level. That needs to be a goal here. I believe we can do that because the resources and the tradition is here.”

Also this week, Pat Narduzzi continued to be an extremely hot commodity on the coaching market as Texas A&M pursued him heavily to become its new defensive coordinator. There is an obvious reason for this: He knows what he is doing. This year, he coached the fifth-ranked defense in the nation and all eleven starters were named to the All-Big Ten teams in some capacity.

And this success was founded in the players who the staff brought to MSU to play defense the way he likes it: hard-nosed and smash-mouth. The recruits under the Dantonio regime have excelled beyond expectations — except maybe those of the staff itself.

They coached up the players and are constantly helping them reach their potential — so well that two precious assistants now are head coaches elsewhere, Don Treadwell (Miami Ohio) and Dan Enos (Central Michigan).

These coaches recruited tough players, and players who could compete with the very best in college football, which was so well displayed against Georgia on Monday. The Spartans went toe-to-toe with a physical imposing and tough SEC team, and came out victorious.

The individual talents brought together have formed one collective unit of outstanding skill and have achieved greatly as a team and as individuals.

As a result, running back Edwin Baker is headed for the NFL early, while rumors float around about cornerback Johnny Adams opting to do the same. And, of course, Worthy is a possible first-round pick.

4. “The next thing I want our players to do is to graduate. That will have the biggest impact on their lives, more than any professional football contract, for the most part, that will have the biggest impact on their lives. Our academics here will be taken very, very seriously.”

A key part of Worthy declaring himself for the NFL Draft was his desire, and his mother’s desire, for him to finish his degree at Michigan State. He is scheduled to graduate in May with his degree in family community services.

Worthy has vowed to his mother he will have his degree within the next two offseasons, and his mother stressed that Jerel earning his degree will be a priority in which agent they hire to represent him.

In 2011, 13 Michigan State players represented the Spartans on the Academic All-Big Ten team. They had a variety of majors and were from all levels of the program.

Cousins, of course, was the headliner as he earned an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship for being named one of 16 recipients of the National Football Foundation’s scholar-athlete awards.

5. “The last thing went to do, probably the most important to a lot of people that are here, I wear this championship ring very, very few times, but I wear it for a reason. I wear it to symbolize what can happen when you have the resources, when you have the players, and most importantly when you have the commitment. … It happens because of a commitment from the players, a belief in values, a belief in themselves. Once you start doing it, it continues. I believe that that can happen here. I truly believe that or I would not have come.”

If there is anything to take away from the graduating senior class, it is they helped turn around the Michigan State program because they bought into what Dantonio was doing day in and day out. They worked and they worked — and in the end, they accomplished.

Under Dantonio, the Spartans have at least one win against every Big Ten opponent — minus the new arrival, Nebraska.

The Spartans are 4-1 against in-state rival Michigan and 3-2 against Notre Dame.

Oh, and don’t forget the 2010 Big Ten Championship and the 2011 Legends Division Championship.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking the championships are finished. Here are comments made by three of the graduating seniors about the future of the program:

Cousins: “The standard has been set at a higher level and I think that’s a good measurement of our senior class as we leave. This program has been built to last now and it’s going to be built for sustained success.”

Cousins: “Coach Dantonio has recruited talent and character, and it’s evident every day. I’m really proud of our senior class for all it has accomplished, but these guys will go on and do bigger and better things. I don’t doubt that. There’s talent everywhere, guys you don’t even know about yet, and they are getting coached and developed just like we have been.”

Nichol: “Michigan State is only going up. There’s not a dropoff after this year. The rest of the Big Ten might hope so, and even though there are a lot of good players leaving, the talent is getting better year by year. I can see it when I look around. I’m really looking forward to watching Michigan State football continue to progress.”

Trenton Robinson: “To go out there and get this bowl win, and leave on top, and get our young guys ready to keep this elite football going, and to build this program to where it should be is a great feeling.Coach D will be in a Rose Bowl, and they will win a Rose Bowl. I can’t wait to watch them next year.”

A little more than five years ago, the new Michigan State coach drew out his challenges for his players and for the program. He explained how he planned to be successful, and what he would do to get there.

He outlined five specific ways for his players and his program to develop, and its safe to say the keys have been — and continue to be — met with incredible success.

On Nov. 27, 2006, he concluded his introductory press conference with this:

“We’ll take our time. We’ll build this the right way. We’ll develop relationships with recruits. We’ll develop relationships with coaches. We already have strong relationships with a lot of people in Michigan, already have strong relationships throughout the Midwest. We’ll go very slowly and walk very boldly and carry a big stick. That’s where we’re coming from. … Thank you very much. Thrilled to be here.”

It is entirely fair to say: We are thrilled to have Mark Dantonio leading Michigan State.

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Posted on January 8, 2012, in Football and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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