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Michigan State Football Season Recap Part One

Each and every season I write a recap of the previous year. Sometimes they are fun to do and sometimes they are the most frustrating thing in the world. I will point out the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 2012 season. Some of the things happened in 2011 or before, but everything I will point out had an immediate impact on the 2012 season.

To do a series of articles like this, it is only fair that I look in the mirror. All of you that read Spartan Nation, read the magazine, listen to the radio, or watch the TV show are amazing people. You read for one reason: I hope you trust me. Not to be perfect, but for straight forward analysis and opinion.

Every single day I remind myself that I am writing or communicating for you. I thought this team was going to be much better than it was when they kicked off the season against Boise State. I told you I thought this team would win 11 games and they ended up with six. That is on me.

Those of us in the media use many things to make our predictions. Some have written me saying it was the coaches that led me astray or I was serving too much green Kool Aid. I hope to believe that none of those are accurate. My opinions were my own. In an age of zero accountability, I take it.

I never base my predictions off of what players and coaches say in public. NEVER. That is a disaster. I do listen intently when they speak with the cameras off or when we are off the record. I remember a coach once giving a glowing and flowing flowery look at his team and the season that was ahead. I will not say what sport, team, or if it was a college or pro. What I will tell you is that the moment his foot came off the podium he started to tell us how his team was a “Pile of (excrement)” and that “This team is a bunch of (female reproductive parts) with no toughness.”

I specifically remember thinking to myself while listening to fans chatter with the excitement of five-year olds on Christmas Eve about his team after that speech, what the coach really thought. I despise it when coaches are disingenuous with the fans. Fans are the boss. They are the ones that sacrifice to purchase, give, and make the program. Regardless of what anyone thinks, without the fans there is no program. In fact, I wish more at MSU truly understood that you the fan are THEIR boss. They work, just as I do, for you.

That is one of the reasons that I hold Mark Dantonio is such high regard. He is my friend. I respect him and think that the job he has done at MSU is nothing short of amazing, but more importantly, he is genuine. He doesn’t say things opposite of what he speaks to the public and he won’t lie. When you turn on the internet, listen to the radio or TV, or open a magazine or newspaper and see quotes, those are his real feelings. The same respect is true for his staff. They are genuine men.

Coming out of the spring I thought this team would win seven or eight games. As I talked to several coaches and players, listened to others I respect talk, I allowed my thoughts to change. That is dangerous for a man whose job is to see through the fog and analyze as mine is. The expectations you the fans had were fed by the optimism of the players and coaches, but also by me.

I allowed my thoughts to be swayed by my respect for the staff and their genuine honesty and the opinions of those I hold in high regard. That isn’t their fault that I changed, that is mine. I open these series of articles with this caveat, because I was wrong.

Before we start to dig in, I must present to you one other bit of information. Because I was convinced that this had the potential to be a special season that possibly could have had the Spartans playing for a Rose Bowl, I reached out to several of my NFL friends for help.

Longtime readers, listeners, and viewers of the Spartan Nation family of services know that we consistently bring you great information from the NFL. Our Mock Draft (which isn’t mine) is highly lauded from coast to coast as one of the best because of them. If my input was part of it, trust me, it would be terrible and I would have every team drafting an offensive lineman in the first round.

I asked each of them if they would be willing to fill out a questionnaire at the end of the football season. It would be three pages. I sent it to them prior to the year.

I know they are busy, but I wanted their comments so if the Spartans would have had the year that I was convinced was coming, I could write a book. After many discussions, I decided to leave out coaches because they simply do not have time.Â

We have at least one GM who agreed down to at least one scout and everywhere in between. In the end, five of them agreed. They represent both the NFC and the AFC. I agreed, just like with the Mock Draft, not to use names for their benefit.

I simply asked them that if MSU came up in discussions, either over lunch with a big game, scouting, or whatever it may be to keep some notes, even if only mental in order to give me their thoughts. I thank them. With the season not going the way most of us anticipated, I won’t be writing a book. Their analysis however is high appreciated and very valuable.

In the interest of fair disclosure, I sent four follow up questions after the year when the questionnaires came back. I did that because they all hit on at least two areas of concern. So the questionnaire ended up being essentially four pages. You will see their work in these stories, but it is important to remember that we should and can expect the football minds to be exceptional at the next level; it certainly doesn’t always make them right.

I give you one last caveat. I will be blunt. I will be fair. I can tell you with 100% honesty that there isn’t one coach on the MSU staff I do not like. This article is NOT about personal feelings, this is about football. Sadly, we live in a message board anonymity world that people attack and don’t discuss. I like all of Mark Dantonio’s staff. I will point out places where I am sure coaches would like a do-over and that doesn’t mean they are bad men.

Think of this. At least they will play twelve games a year and at best 14. Every call is on national TV. It is easy to be an armchair QB. That is not the purpose of this article.

I spend far more time with this group than the average fan and Mark Dantonio has done an exceptional job of gathering men around him of high moral character and integrity. That is worth something.Â

Sadly, in my profession if you write one thing people grab it and say you hate someone. That would be false. I have not always liked every coach that I have had the pleasure of covering, and I know that they have not always liked me. I have always, in my opinion, been fair.

There were warning signs that this team would not have a Rose Bowl season. I had harped for two years that the MSU Football staff had failed in getting meaningful reps for heir apparent Andrew Maxwell. I had harped on it so bad that fans were beginning to tell me to get off my soap box and the staff knew better. Just like I warned them that MSU football was headed towards the cliff with the poor pay of coaches, after the 2011 season MSU was 10th or 11th depending on who you believe in staff pay, fans (and some in the NON athletic administration) grew tired of hearing my concerns. In both cases, I was right.

The administration’s failure to allow football to have the money necessary to scour the nation for talent in recruiting and pay staff still haunts this program to this day and I will discuss it in these articles.Â

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Alabama is looking for ways to spend the surplus of money, and their revenue has grown exponentially once they made a commitment to be great in football. They pay Nick Saban worthy of a man that owns college football at this time, but more importantly they give him the budget to hire and pay what it takes to have a superior staff and recruit anywhere. They didn’t have anywhere near the money that they bring in today, because of the commitment prior to his arrival.

One NFL GM said it like this, “Nick Saban never won anywhere like he did at LSU and Bama. Why? He never had a school commit to letting him hire a great staff and give him a recruiting budget like he has had. Even in the NFL, because of parity, he couldn’t do what he has done at Alabama and LSU. I think there are a lot of coaches who could have his success with his resources. I am not saying he isn’t a good coach, but I am saying there are a lot of good coaches who don’t have what a select group of schools do. I think Dantonio would do just as good as Nick. He is doing better at MSU than Nick did. Nick wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest coach in the MAC. He was a good coach, but became the legend he is now because of places that shared his commitment. He could have done this at MSU and I have no doubt so can Dantonio. The bigger question is if the school and by school I mean administration want to.”

Another NFL person from an AFC franchise said, “When we first talked I found it amazing that MSU would even talk about a national title or the Big Ten ring. Forget that a title goes through the SEC who is committed to owning the crystal. You have in your back yard Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame that will open the checkbook. They don’t talk winning, they crave it and as institutions they want it and realize the value of it.”

I am a free market capitalist and everyone from Tom Izzo to Mark Hollis to the person who grabs a ticket from a scalper to hit one game a year knows this: Until the MSU administration makes the same commitment as Alabama, or even Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame they are breeding frustration and in some cases anger from the fans. Stop the talk of National Titles and Big Ten rings if you aren’t willing to spend the money to make it happen. It is proof that if you do, the money comes back far more than what goes out. The argument is not over if it can be done, the issue is over want to.

As Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio remind fans that the plan is to win Big Ten championships and compete for national titles, the fans will expect it. One Big Ten Athletic Director told me for this article, “I am fascinated by the job Mark Hollis has done at MSU. He holds that thing together as a self-sufficient program that gets no University money and has to give back a large chunk to the school. He gets no help with out of state players and he doesn’t get concessions or parking money? That is a joke.”

When I mentioned to him how if Izzo wants to practice on the Breslin Court, the Athletics Department has to rent the Breslin, he told me, “That is the (excrement) that has to drive Hollis nuts.” In case you are wondering I purposely didn’t contact Mark Hollis for this article. Why put him in that spot? It is reality.

 In case you are new to Spartan Nation, I need to mention that you can click on the scholarship money, renting the Breslin, and giving back to the school for past articles describing those issues.

Those were a warning sign. While OSU and Michigan went out and spent whatever it took to be good in the off season prior to 2012, MSU stayed the course. Nominal raises to most of the staff and just over doubling Narduzzi. Even with the raise Pat was still far below his pay grade based on performance.Â

Back to back 11-win seasons, the nation’s best defensive coordinator coming back for less than half of what he was offered by two SEC schools to be their head defensive man had the Spartan Nation fired up. Add to it, an off season of National Championship talk and Rose Bowls and this place was on fire.

I fed it also.

The offensive line concerned me, but we all heard that they were going to be a strength of the team even though honest introspection said they were a question mark. In the power scheme that MSU runs you MUST think of the fullback and tight end as an extension of the running game and both of those places were nothing better than question marks heading into the campaign. Despite that coaches with the cameras on and off, players the same, all sang the praises of the MSU OL.

The WR group should have put fear in the hearts of the Spartan Nation. Perhaps the most talented group of wide outs as a unit in MSU history, they were still very young and many immature. We’ll take a closer look at the hype surrounding the talented WR from Saginaw, DeAnthony Arnett.Â

The kicker in the MSU system is so valuable and after struggling in the spring and summer, they built him up in public rather than bring expectations down to earth. How that hurt Dan Conroy.

There were a lot of warning signs. They were ignored. There, but not seen. In the midst of excitement Mark Dantonio became a victim of his own success.

We will talk tomorrow in detail about:

  • ·        The recruiting money that Mark Dantonio has to use
  • ·        Staff pay and how that impacts the program
  • ·        The OL, FB, and TE spots and dig deep for answers
  • ·        Recruiting: inside the numbers and NOT the dollars
  • ·        The QB
  • ·        Kicking
  • ·        WR

On Monday, we turn our attention to more of what the NFL people had to say about MSU:Â

  • ·        The offensive line
  • ·        The QB position
  • ·        What would appear to be a glaring weakness in the MSU offense, and I bet it’s not what you think


We will end next Tuesday as we look at several key issues from 2012 that will carry over and they include:

  • ·        The good and the bad and finally on Tuesday we look at recruiting…the hard cold truth.
  • ·         How good is Spartan recruiting and are they at a level that they can win Big Ten titles and compete for national titles
  • ·        What are the dynamics of a “New Staff” and zeroing in on staff loyaltyÂ
  • ·        I got a lot of comments from NFL people when I asked them about Dantonio’s commitment to continuity. Is it good for MSU or bad?
  • ·        Was there tension with the offensive woes in 2012?
  • ·        How did Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, and Chris Norman, as quiet men, impact this team in 2012


All of this in the 2012 MSU Football season recap!