Over one week after the fact, many around the college football world are still shocked regarding the coaching change in East Lansing. Longtime Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio stepped down nine days ago after 13 seasons with the program. The move was anticipated by many, but the timing and manner in which it happened sparked a certain level of controversy. By waiting until after January 16 to retire, Dantonio was able to claim a retention bonus of $4.3 million. However, many within the program, specifically the incoming recruiting class and their families, questioned the motivation of Dantonio in retiring when he did.

“Dantonio did a great job with that program,” said former Michigan offensive lineman and regular Thursday guest on ‘Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath’ Reuben Riley. “In the last few years, they kind of went down, but he’s responsible for a reign as far as beating (Michigan) over a 10 year stretch. He did great things within that program. Unfortunately, there are some aspects of that program that someone dropped the ball on, which kind of tainted his legacy.

“To look at his whole entire body of work, he did a great job in terms of being the head guy at MSU.”

Two days ago, the coaching search for Michigan State ended with the hiring of Colorado head coach and former Nick Saban assistant Mel Tucker. Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell — the interim head coach at Ohio State in 2011 — was heavily rumored to be at the forefront of the Spartans’ interest throughout the week. However, Fickell took himself out of the running on Monday after a weekend visit from Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman. The hiring of Tucker was announced the next day.

“As (Michigan State) transitions into the Tucker era, I think their expectations are that it’s time to do what Dantonio did as far as beating Michigan,” Riley said. “He has a tall task to try to get on the winning end, which they haven’t done in the last few years. For the most part, you can only say good things about (Dantonio’s) time at MSU. With Tucker coming in, he’s got some big shoes to fill.”

Those around Ann Arbor have no doubt taken delight in the unceremonious end to the Dantonio era the last few seasons. Michigan is riding a convincing two game winning streak against the Spartans, with head coach Jim Harbaugh slowly turning the tide on Dantonio the past couple of seasons. Prior to the 2018 meeting, Michigan State had been victorious eight times in the past 10 battles for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Dantonio will go down as the all time leader in coaching wins in East Lansing, but went out with a 7-6 record in each of the last two seasons. The Wolverines will be looking to extend the Spartans’ in-state struggles, with the 2020 meeting in East Lansing set for October 10.

“I prefer (playing them) at their best,” Riley said. “Beating up on a wounded team, that really doesn’t do anything for me, as a fan, or as a former player. That’s not intriguing. I want to see you at your best. I think most of the times that we played Michigan State they were coming in 5-0, 6-0, guns blazing. Even when they had a so-so year, they would play us close. I think Michigan State is going to give (Michigan) their best swing, regardless of what their record is.

“I’d like to see the program strong, just for the sake of having a legitimate rivalry that everyone will want to tune in to and watch.”

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