Mark Dantonio Has Something Extra Special at Michigan State

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Sure Mark Dantonio has great athletes, but what he has even more is great team chemistry.  A key ingredient in championship football.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Sure Mark Dantonio has great athletes, but what he has even more is great team chemistry. A key ingredient in championship football. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.


Something Special at MSU

As I listened to Coach Mark Dantonio address the Big Ten media he gave much credit to the recent success of the Spartan Football program to “team chemistry”. Team chemistry is a term often used by many coaches when describing the cohesiveness or togetherness of those that play and those that coach the players ending in successful results usually. To those of us on the outside and looking in we hear this term, team chemistry, and are comforted in knowing that it basically means something good is happening with the team. Just exactly what team chemistry means in this instance as Coach Dantonio talked about however we really did not know.  What is it that is good? If I were to ask any random sports fan to define team chemistry, they would most likely answer the question by saying strong leadership from players and coaches, or shared goals and expectations, or might even say just having positive attitudes. They would be somewhat correct. Those things do make a huge impact on a football team and its success. They all contribute greatly to team chemistry, but they are not unique in that many teams enjoy those very same aspects. 

So it begs the question just what is “Special” with the Spartans.  I was fortunate to sit and talk with Edwin Baker and Trenton Robinson and ask questions and listen in as others asked questions about the past and the upcoming football season. Many of the questions asked were very vanilla and some were really just darn right dumb. These young men patiently answered any and all questions and for the most part in just as a vanilla manner. Would you expect anything else? I’m sure they had been briefed about the media and how to answer those questions in a somewhat guarded way and understandably so. To be honest, I too asked dumb questions, but then again asking dumb questions is nothing new for me. 

So then what is it that makes this team chemistry so special, what is it that is the glue that holds together this program, and makes it different from other schools? My answer came when I asked this question of both of these young men. “In what ways has your position coach helped you to be the player you are today?” It was like an invisible barrier that was between us was lifted away and a relaxation on the part of these young men came over them. Trenton Robinson explained how Harlon Barnett was more of a father figure than a coach. He has helped him in so many ways on and off the field, he is always there for him, and he is a person he can trust and call on at any time. Edwin Baker felt just as strongly as Trenton about his position coach Brad Salem. Clearly, the glue that makes this program special is about personal relationships. It is how the players feel about their teammates of course, but just as importantly how they feel about their coaches. 

Relationships and bonds are not just associated with the locker room or on the playing field, but are a full time 24/7 365 thing on and off the field. Players know the program is there for them morning, noon, and night. Where does this closeness come from? Where is it generated? 

Coach Mark Dantonio is a family man and a man of very strong faith. Those are the same qualities that he looks for in the coaches that he hires. Players look as these qualities as being genuine and real. Coach Dantonio and his coaches live those values everyday in their coaching and in all the dealings with the players on the squad. It is evident that players believe they are part of a family here at MSU, that relationships, responsibility, and respect comes from the very top and is not only expected by each and every player, coach, and member of the football program, but it is demanded.  

A recent blog on the Phalanx forum by a new Spartan parent adds credence to the atmosphere of family created by Coach Dantonio. They reported that their son was nervous and thought that the transition here would be difficult at first only for it to be just the opposite. He was accepted immediately by both upper and lower classmen and asked to participate in Bible studies, go to movies, and just overall has been welcomed into the Spartan family. 

If you were to send your son away for four years would you wish him to be here where you knew he would be looked after and cared for as a if he was a brother or a son?  Team chemistry especially “special team chemistry” is an important asset to the success of not only a football team and its season, but at a much higher level to the development of young men for their future after football.