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U coach leaves

January 23, 2001

After six seasons as MSU football’s defensive secondary coach and one as the associate head coach, Mark Dantonio opted to leave the Spartans for the defensive coordinator position at Ohio State.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Michigan State,” Dantonio said in a prepared statement Monday. “I’ve spent six great years here and I really feel a part of the university community.”

Dantonio arrived at MSU in December 1994 under the leadership of former MSU head coach Nick Saban. Under Dantonio’s supervision, the Spartan secondary ranked among the NCAA leaders in pass defense two of the last three years, finishing No. 10 in 1998 and No. 16 in 1997.

Saban was on a recruiting trip for Louisiana State and unavailable for comment Monday.

“Coach Dantonio was a father figure to all of the (defensive backs),” MSU sophomore safety Thomas Wright said through John Lewandowski, assistant athletics director for media relations. “He held the secondary together and kept us focused each week.

“I was disappointed when he told us that he was leaving for Ohio State, but I understand why he’s making the move. I respect him and know that he’s doing what’s best to further his career. He had hoped to mold us into the nation’s top secondary next season and now we just have to accomplish that same goal with a new leader,” Wright said.

Despite losing an important component of the football program, MSU head coach Bobby Williams said he was happy for Dantonio.

“This is a great professional opportunity for Mark and one he couldn’t turn down,” Williams said in the statement. “Mark has worked a long time to become a defensive coordinator and he’s ready to handle those duties.”

Since graduating from Ohio University in 1979, Dantonio has spent a majority of his time dealing with the defensive aspect of the game.

In 1982 he was hired as the defensive coordinator at Butler Junior College, and in 1995 as the defensive secondary coach at Akron.

During the years 1986 through 1990 he was the defensive secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Youngstown State, and in 1991 through 1994 the defensive secondary coach at Kansas.

Dantonio admits he has had previous opportunities to leave MSU, but his love for the Spartans kept him grounded in East Lansing.

“Over the past few years, I’ve had other opportunities to leave Michigan State but chose not to, but this is an entirely different situation,” he said.

Dantonio rejoins recently hired Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who he worked with for five years at Youngstown State and two at Ohio State.

“Now I have the opportunity to go back to Ohio State and serve as defensive coordinator,” Dantonio said. “Ohio State has a rich football tradition and I’m excited about rejoining the program.”

Tressel was named Ohio State’s head football coach on Jan. 18. Previously he served for 15 years in the same capacity at Youngstown State, where he won four NCAA Division 1-AA national championships.

Tressel was unavailable for comment Monday.

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