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Relationships Spell Recruiting Success For Dantonio

Mark Dantonio's personality and commitment to relationships and people are what has put the Spartan program on a strong foundation.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Mark Dantonio's personality and commitment to relationships and people are what has put the Spartan program on a strong foundation. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.



So much of MSU’s short stints of success were coupled with tough lessons and large tumbles since the great Duffy left Spartan football. What has been lacking in East Lansing since the days of Duffy was consistent leadership. We needed leadership that was committed to doing things the right way. We have longed for leadership that was committed to building a program for the long haul. Thankfully the Spartan Nation now has it in Mark Dantonio.


Too often coaches have taken an oath to bring greatness to Michigan State, only to cut corners and hope that short-term gains would be enough to whew future talent into a green uniform. Bobby Williams tried to build a team with undisciplined individuals. John L. hoped that three or four junior college kids every year could fill the roster’s gaping holes while Detroit was essentially ignored. 


It has been many years since Michigan State has recruited consistently on the gridiron. MSU’s time is now with a man like Mark Dantonio in charge.


The Spartan fan base, the media and everyone that had an opinion about ‘the boys in green’ were disgusted by last fall’s Rather Hall incident. Sadly, this is all too common among high profile college athletics. The details of the incident were dragged into every newspaper, blog and underwear drawer for that matter. I am not going to waste our readership’s time rehashing what is already known. Sadly some couldn’t see the forest for the trees.


Fewer embarrassing incidents if any like Rather Hall will occur around East Lansing moving forward. I can assure you that off the field problems will always exist when you have 100 testosterone filled males, but it won’t be with the regularity seen lately.


Much of it has to do with recruiting relationships. When Mark Dantonio first arrived on the scene, he was determined to get the best talent in the state of Michigan. This meant that he was going to have to recruit in areas that were largely untapped or simply unknown by previous MSU regimes.


The recruiting process is one that is rooted in coaching relationships. High school coaches have a great deal to do with a student athlete’s preparation as well as knowing the kid’s attitude and work ethic. It takes time to build lasting relationships that are battle tested. It takes time to build these relationships so that trust and transparency are cemented deep into the recruiting foundation. Mark Dantonio is now reaching the level he needs within the recruiting ranks that will allow him to be more selective.


You can’t be right about a kid 100% of the time; it is an unreasonable expectation. What you will see as Mark continues to have success at MSU is someone who is getting it right more often than his predecessors. I am in no way suggesting that the guys involved in off the field altercations were bad kids. In fact most weren’t. There is often a kindling effect when trouble is on the horizon among young men possessing big egos, muscles and bad judgment. One guy starts down the wrong road and it is just a function of whether someone follows him or taps him on the shoulder and turns him back. Coach Dantonio is getting more kids that will recognize when it is time to ‘man-up’ and turn back.


Often coaches are expected to be fathers as well as teachers. When you look at the responsibility of a head football coach at any major university, the balancing act that comes with the territory is simply huge. Think about it from Dantonio’s perspective. I saw all the comments as to how Rather Hall should have been handled. I saw the articles printed suggesting a number of ways that Coach Dantonio could have handled it better. In the end, I admire those that put their name next to their opinions, but ultimately I put my trust in Coach Dantonio because he continually demonstrates he will do it one way; the right way it seems.


I appreciate Coach Dantonio’s willingness to embrace the past. I admire him for being humble and unfazed by those who criticize him. An empire cannot be built overnight. It certainly cannot be built cutting corners. One thing that we at Spartan Nation believe unequivocally and without any doubt is that Dantonio is the right man at the right time to lead the Spartan Nation back to football glory.


There were an awful lot of red-shirts that could have helped MSU win more games last season. Six win seasons aren’t really the measuring stick we are looking for. Previous coaches would have needed to burn those red-shirts to save their jobs or salvage a recruiting class or in some cases simply to remove the heat from the fan base. Mark didn’t because he is further along than his 2009 record would indicate and he is a man that looks down the road, not just at this season like his colleague who has done a pretty good job in the Breslin Center, Tom Izzo did when he arrived.

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Mark knew what he was risking when he looked across his roster last fall. Any man, who has coached as long as he has coached, could have expected as much. You can afford a six-win season when you have a blue print in place to be successful. The relationships Mark and his staff have forged will continue to yield bumper recruiting crops. 


There is no ‘quick-fix’ or ‘magic pill.’ There have been a number of kids we have missed out on that have gone out-of-state chasing promises. Some of them have worked out, some of them haven’t.


What everyone needs to understand is that the kids who are pledging their services to Michigan State today have been recruited since our staff arrived. How is this possible you might ask? How could they know what Will Gholston would become? Did they really see Nick Hill waiting in the wings four years ago? The answer is yes and no. 


It goes right back to the relationships with high school coaches and ultimately the young men and their families. The MSU staff had access to these kids before other schools were aware enough to get involved. They simply took the time to get to know the landscape they are recruiting. Consequently, they have gotten to know these kids much better than the kids they were taking in their first and second recruiting classes. This is the recipe for long-term success.


I simply look at last year’s recruiting class and smile. These are the kids our archrival used to load up on before they hired West Virginia’s ‘quick-fix.’ It leaves me wondering why you’d ever mess with a blue print that has delivered more ten-win seasons than we have ever had.


Lawrence Thomas, Onaje Miller, Taiwan Jones and Connor Cook are the kind of kids that win championships and are the first four commitments of the 2011 class. They are the type of talent we need to be mentioned among the elite. They will attract other high profile, high quality student-athletes to join them. QB Connor Cook recently told Spartan Nation how Lawrence Thomas, “Texted me and told me I needed to come to MSU with him.”


It is a formula that has been missing since Duffy ended his reign. It takes the right man to build a championship caliber program. In the spring of ’12, we will be talking about championships. For now, fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride through Mark Dantonio’s rebuilding project.


Tom Izzo spent considerable time building relationships when he took over from Jud. He was known, but he made it his mission to be at anything and everything he could to know players. He got around them so as they matured through high school he understood them and they him. He owns the State of Michigan now in basketball because by time a youngster is ready to sign on the dotted line they are comfortable with him, they trust him and most of all know him.


Mark Dantonio is essentially using the blue prints that Izzo used to build his program. There have been some young men that Dantonio recruited early that he simply didn’t have the time to know like those he is accumulating now. Some of them didn’t work out. There will more down the road who make mistakes, but as he has time on the job to continue to build relationships the mistakes dwindle.


Mark Dantonio told Spartan Nation when he arrived, “True relationships are what this game is all about. People who think it is only about X’s and O’s are mistaken. It will take time, but will get there.” Spartan recruiting will only get better as Mark Dantonio continues to build those close ties that have already paid dividends. He cares people and that pays off. If you don’t think so, I bet you were one of the people after Izzo’s early years that were clamoring for his job.


Mark Dantonio’s methodical ways may not win him a lot of fan fare, but it is the right way, and now MSU has the right guy. A great combination!