Mark Dantonio Finishes Laying the Foundation in 2008 For Rebuilding Spartan Football

Hondo S. Carpenter

Spartan Football Finishes Laying the Foundation in 2008


In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to write in much more detail in the first issue of Spartan Nation Magazine (available for free starting in late January), but here are some of my thoughts and comments from the 2008 season after the Capital One Bowl.


I have a good friend whose wife and family started getting sick. Living in a large home on several acres, he began to question what was happening. Much to his chagrin his home, after a lengthy process he found out, was full of mold. They had to completely tear down his home, including tearing up the foundation and taking away the dirt that the house sat on. He had to completely rebuild.


That, my friend, is what Mark Dantonio inherited when he took over MSU, a broken and ruined program. There was a lack of talent, but there were also some kids with big hearts. This program needed the complete foundation and all the dirt hauled away.


What Dantonio did was try to rebuild trust with a group of young men that were wounded. He talked frankly and openly. Dan Enos had given a rousing speech in the last game of the old regime at PSU and he kept Enos. That was a great move in that the players loved and trusted him. Dantonio let his team know that his coaches would be demanding, but any type of demeaning coaching would get a coach fired.


He spoke with complete honesty, never sugar coating anything, and although they didn’t always like what he said, they respected him. He sat down with one player that told him his goal was to play in the NFL. Dantonio told him, “Judging on your film, I would concentrate on your grades.”


The 2007 team overachieved and that was a nice start; a start that, to be frank, would have been wasted if they had failed to reach a bowl this year, which it obviously wasn’t wasted. The Spartans overachieved in 2008. The Spartans saw against PSU and OSU that although they were in the hunt, they didn’t have the horses or the depth to fight against championship caliber teams that were loaded top to bottom. In both games you saw the direction the Spartan Nation is headed, but the gap that has yet to be closed.


I predicted the Spartans would go 8-4 in 2008 and head to an Outback Bowl. If that had happened, the Spartans would have faced and beaten South Carolina. Instead, they overachieved more than I had thought they would and faced a UGA team that was the preseason number one, and if not for 22 season ending injuries, very well could have been playing in a BCS game.


The Spartans were the team that played disciplined and avoided the stupid mistakes. Georgia didn’t, but they had such a massive amount of talent that the Spartans were able to hang around, but in the end the Bulldogs won.


The Spartans will not meet nine regular season wins in 2009 as they did this year. They will, however, get to a bowl game and the goal for that year will be a bowl game and a win. This team is building for a 2011 Big Ten Title, and although that still is three seasons away, Spartan fans need to take heart.


Next season there will be huge gaps to fill. I will get into those in detail in the magazine. They will, however, add depth and experience and start to build with a foundation that is sturdy and strong. Some Spartan fans will be delusional and expect more. After years of frustration that simply isn’t smart, although it is understandable.


The 2009 spring football season is the most anticipated of my lifetime and the future is brighter than at any time since Duffy retired. Mark Dantonio and his staff have made all the right moves and are headed in the right direction in recruiting and on and off the field.


We can take away a real sense of faith, and most of all tangible proof of where we are headed. The Spartans will have a rebuilding year next year and fans must remember that only the foundation is built now. Nothing else. By overachieving this season many won’t look at that with appreciation, instead they will have a false sense of arrival.


Anyone who has ever built a house will tell you that if you tried to move in with only a foundation, it sure can get cold. Rejoice Spartan fans and appreciate the journey. In 2011 we will be what OSU and PSU are this season. We aren’t there yet, but the journey will make that even more incredible.


I left the Florida Citrus Stadium fired up about being at the Capital One Bowl, proud to be a Spartan, and most of all full of enthusiasm and excitement for where we are headed. We’re not there, but it is now visible on the horizon and it isn’t a mirage.


We are building one step at a time. No shortcuts. It takes a little time, but with a coach that is staying for the long haul I would just as soon build for his future and ours.


This team lacks depth and still lacks talent at many spots. They will fill the holes and only experience can prepare players for that. With that said, I agree with many of the players who after the game told me that they wish spring ball was starting now.


I agree, but the journey is still so much fun, for those that appreciate it and embrace it. Â