Why Mark Dantonio Returning Might Be Best

Jeff Dullack

As Michigan State’s fall from grace continues, fans, donors and alumni have understandably become upset with Mark Dantonio and a growing number are starting to call for the longtime Spartan sideline general to either step-down or be fired.

The response is understandable, considering the fact that the Spartans are 24-24 since their memorable 2015 season, and, after Saturday’s embarrassing 44-10 loss to rival Michigan, Michigan State sits at 4-6 with the possibility of missing a bowl game for the second time in four years.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Dantonio responded to questions regarding his future at Michigan State and if he expected to be the head coach in next year’s season opener against Northwestern.

“Yes, yes,” Dantonio said. “Well, I can’t predict the future, if I could, I guess we’d be 10-0 right now. I can’t predict the future, but my intentions are to be the head football coach here and I’ve always said I live in the present though – I’ve always said that. There’s certain things you have control of and there’s certain things you don’t have control of, so I can’t control everything but my intentions are there. My father always taught me to complete circles, complete the circle, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

One thing needs to be clear for those demanding Dantonio be fired – it will not happen under Michigan State’s current administration and leadership within the athletic department.  Spartan Nation was the first to report at the time of Bill Beekman's hiring that it was Dantonio and Tom Izzo's support (after being influenced by a member of the Board of Trustees) to hire him.  

Dantonio (along with Izzo) got Beekman the job.  Beekman WILL NOT FIRE HIM.  You can say that Dantonio was the factor why Bill Beekman was hired as the University’s Athletic Director, a position that his resume would appear to say he was unqualified for from the beginning and Beekman won’t be letting go of Dantonio 18 months later. Whether fans and alumni agree with it or not, Dantonio will leave the University on his own terms.

But the argument in favor of Dantonio returning beyond the 2019 season is one that needs to at least be presented. Whether fans agree with it or not, Dantonio should be given the opportunity to right his wrongs and correct the mistakes that have plagued his program in recent years.

And that starts with admitting his own wrongdoings. Admitting that he was wrong to keep his coaching staff intact after dismal seasons in 2016 and 2018. Admitting that changes in his philosophy, which is becoming outdated, are necessary to get Michigan State back on track.

Those admissions won’t come easy to a coach who has built a reputation on being defiant to criticisms and noise that comes from outside of his program and loyal to his longtime assistant coaches. But not even Dantonio can deny that the changes he has avoided making for years are now long overdue.

If Dantonio is willing to admit those mistakes and make those changes, the argument can be made that he has more than earned and deserves to have the chance to make the moves needed to turn the program around.

The possibility of Dantonio stepping down at seasons’ end was very real until Tuesday as the coach who once had all of the answers to all of the Spartans’ problems began taking on the look of someone who now struggles to find a remedy to what ails his program, a harsh reality that could be creeping up on the winningest coach in program history.

But considering the amount of success he’s had throughout his tenure in East Lansing, it’s not surprising that Dantonio would want to return, believing he is still capable of turning the program around.

“I’m only in control of some things, I’m not in control of everything,” Dantonio said on Tuesday after stating he would return next season. “I do my best, I feel pretty certain There’s always little reminders of the past hanging around us. When I went home last night after working 15 hours, scratching my head and saying, ‘Why am I working 15 hours again, 85 hours a week?’ I went home, you put on something, I don’t go to sleep, contrary to what people believe – I don’t, okay? I took something off the shelf, put it on, looked at it, I said, ‘There’s a Rose Bowl insignia on this thing, okay?’ Sort of sent the message home to me that there’s been a lot of success here – a tremendous amount of success here. That can happen again, and that can happen under my watch. That’s what I felt.”

If in the event Dantonio were to leave Michigan State, the fate of a once-proud football program will be left in the hands of a rookie Athletic Director and a Board of Trustees that has proven to at least appear if not prove to be incompetent in the years following the Larry Nassar scandal.

For fans that don’t want Dantonio back, their feelings are warranted, but those fans must ask themselves, do they want the current University leadership that’s in place to be responsible for finding the successor that’s supposed to lead the Spartan football program forward?

Spartan Nation was the first to report early this year that most in leadership at MSU expected Dantonio to remain no more than two seasons.  Word around the program was that Bill Beekman had expressed interest in Mike Tressel and that Dantonio wanted him to be his successor.

You may remember that Spartan Nation asked a member of the Board of Trustees about that and they told us, "Mark (Dantonio) and Bill (Beekman) need to know that we (Board of Trustees) hire the next coach, not them."  That member of the BOT is correct.

At MSU the BOT makes the hire.  This board has been dysfunctional, to the point that they have gone after one another and recently had one member quit because of their lack of transparency on the Larry Nassar scandal that rocked and continues to rock the institution.

Do you honestly have any faith in the current board to pick a football coach?  Not many do.  Including many within the University, the fans, and donors.

With the questionable leadership in place that would oversee a potential coaching search, the University would likely rely on a fixture in the athletic department, like Tom Izzo, to help throughout the process. Considering Izzo will be right in the middle of arguably his most important season as head coach of the Spartans, chasing down a second National Title, can the legendary head coach really be expected to assist in a coaching search? Probably not.

There is a multitude of reasons why it may be time for Dantonio to leave Michigan State, but there are just as many reasons why the longtime head coach should be given the opportunity to get the program he built back on track. 

Dantonio said that his decision to return for 2020 is an acknowledgment that his circle at Michigan isn’t complete and noted he has no intention of leaving before the circle, or his time in East Lansing is finished.

“It means when you start something you finish it,” he said. “That’s what it means to me and my family. That’s sort of the direction that we’ve always tried to go. That means it’s not quitting the in the middle of something when you don’t think something is finished. I don’t think I’m finished.”

The heat on Dantonio is warranted. Those calling for his job are well within their right to do so. Asking for more from a program that rose to the level of one of the nation’s best less than five years ago is not too much to ask. But it might be best for the long-term well being of the Michigan State football program if Dantonio remains in charge beyond 2019.

Want the latest breaking MSU news delivered straight to your email for FREE? Sign up for the DAILY Spartan Nation newsletter when you CLICK THE MAGAZINE ICON at the top left of the page or the FOLLOW button back on the main page. Don’t miss any of the latest up to the second updates on Michigan State Sports when you follow on Twitter @HondoCarpenter

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

I think the new president has to step up and provide leadership quickly. Dantonio is basically policing himself because he has no boss! This has to change! Beekman works for Tom and Mark and not the other way around. Again, it will not look good when Mark gets depositioned. I recently read Lou Anna Simon will get depositioned as well. MSU is the new Baylor. The school needs a severe cleaning bad, starting with Dantonio