Fallen Hero: After Great Run, Time for Dantonio to Step Aside at Michigan State.

Herb Gould

Not long ago, Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman said the school wasn’t even considering the notion of firing Spartans coach Mark Dantonio.

``It obviously hasn’t been the season we hoped it would be at this point,’’ Beekman told the Lansing State Journal on Nov. 8. ``But we have a lot of football left to play. So we’ll see how the season goes.’’

The next day, Michigan State blew a 28-3 lead and fell to Illinois 37-34. The Spartans followed that disaster by being drubbed by their arch-rival, Michigan, by 34 points, 44-10, on Saturday. Dantonio’s four previous losses to the Wolverines had come by a total of 29 points.

And now, there is no longer a lot of football left to play for reeling Michigan State. At 4-6, the Spartans can still sneak into a bowl by winning their final two games against bottom-feeders Rutgers and Maryland.

Even if that happens, it will seem more like a cup than a bowl.

The defense has remained solid. But Michigan State's offense has not kept up with the way the game is played now.

This will be the third time in four seasons that MSU has struggled. It went 3-9 in 2016, 10-3 in 2017 and 7-6 last year. That adds up to a 24-24 record, including 15-19 in Big Ten games, the last four years.

That comes after a brilliant run in which Dantonio led Michigan State to at least 11 wins in five of the previous six seasons—including three Big Ten championships. In 2010-15, Michigan State went 65-16. It lost more than one Big Ten game (39-9) only once in those six years. In 13 years, he is 111-57.

In September, Dantonio passed the legendary Duffy Daughtery—who did so much to integrate the game and coached the Spartans in the epic 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in 1966—as the winningest coach in Michigan State history. In 2015, Dantonio guided the Spartans to the College Football Playoff.

It was great stuff.

But that was then. Now, if Beekman and other Michigan State muckety-mucks aren’t at least thinking about whether Dantonio should be back in 2020, they are mishandling their stewardship. Many loyal followers of the program certainly are pondering the coaching-change question.

While appreciative of everything Dantonio has accomplished, a good Spartan friend of mine believes it's time for a change. ``It's a shame,'' he said. ``He's going out like Duffy Daugherty did. Sad commentary.''

This stuff is never easy.

As the winningest coach in MSU’s proud history, Dantonio, 63, has earned the right to make his own call about when it’s time to step down.

If he thinks he can get it going again—revamp his staff and start luring the elite recruits needed to compete in the fierce Big Ten East—it would be pretty difficult to show him the door.

But it’s also pretty difficult to see how Dantonio would be able to reverse the current trend. Recruiting has declined. Spartans are flowing out of the transfer portal. More importantly, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State—which have more reasons to be successful than MSU—have moved on from a variety of issues that were holding them back.

What makes more sense: Dantonio should see the handwriting on the wall. He had a great run. But it sure looks like time for the Spartans to turn to a new coach with new ideas.

If Michigan State officials need to convince Dantonio it’s time for a change, they should.

What makes less sense: Even if he can convince them he’s the man to revive a sagging program, that seems more risky at this point than moving on to the next coach.

And that’s saying something. Because hiring the next coach is always filled with risk.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Right on the money

Herb Gould