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WEB UPDATE: Dantonio seems likely choice to be next MSU football head coach

November 27, 2006

Mark Dantonio, who has been named by several sources as the man chosen by university officials to succeed John L. Smith as MSU's football head coach is no stranger to the Spartans.

He's no stranger to head coaching searches either.

In 2002, after Bobby Williams was fired as head coach, Dantonio was discussed as a potential candidate for the job Smith eventually landed.

From 1995 to 2000, Dantonio spent six seasons in green and white as an assistant coach, working with MSU's defense first under Nick Saban, then Williams.

University spokesman Terry Denbow said late Sunday night an 8 a.m. board meeting was planned for today regarding the coaching search. According to Denbow, there's only one item on the agenda.

MSU officials have played the search close to their vests over the last month. They characteristically declined to comment on specific details of the morning meeting and would not confirm reports that Dantonio had been chosen for the job Sunday night. Denbow, Athletics Director Ron Mason and Trustee Joel Ferguson all declined to disclose details regarding any potential offer.

"We haven't commented on the process until now, and I don't want to start," Denbow said by phone in an earlier interview Sunday afternoon.

Tom Dienhart of Sportingnews.com posted an article late Sunday night that said, according to an unnamed source, Dantonio would get the job. ESPN.com also reported Sunday that Dantonio had moved to the top of the list over the weekend. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reported early this morning that Dantonio would get the job.

According to Associated Press reports Sunday night, an MSU official close to the search confirmed that Dantonio would receive Simon's recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

Cincinnati Athletics Director Mike Thomas was aware Dantonio was a candidate, Bearcats spokesman Tom Hathaway told The Associated Press.

Defensive mind

Dantonio has a successful track record on defense. His Spartans secondaries ranked high nationally before he left East Lansing to direct Ohio State's formidable defense under Jim Tressel in 2000.

If Dantonio is indeed returning to Spartan Country, he will leave a Cincinnati team that was on its way up. In his first season as head coach of the Bearcats in 2004, he led the team to a winning record — its first in 23 years.

He finished 7-5 this season, on a tough schedule that included road losses to Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Louisville. The Bearcats did notch a notable victory over an unbeaten Rutgers team and are currently waiting for a bowl bid.

During his tenure at MSU, Dantonio headed up Saban's football summer camp for young players; he was in charge of the camp's daily operations.

In addition to his time at MSU, he has coached at Purdue, Ohio, Akron, Youngstown State (also under Tressel), Kansas, Ohio State and Cincinnati.

Other candidates

Before the rumor mill started churning around Dantonio on Sunday, other bits of speculation surfaced regarding potential candidates over the long weekend:

LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, Central Michigan head coach Brian Kelly and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were considered possibilities to become the next MSU football coach.

Early Sunday night, Cleveland news stations were reporting that Grantham had accepted the job at MSU.

Iowa State reportedly has called for a 6 p.m. press conference today to announce its new football coach. Scout.com reported that Iowa State would announce Brian Kelly as their choice.

The Cyclones were rumored to be interested in Kelly, and Central Michigan Athletics Director David Heeke told The Des Moines Register that he gave Iowa State permission to talk with Kelly.

There also was talk that Pelini was on the Cyclones' radar, but he told The Des Moines Register on Sunday that he hasn't "talked to anybody from Iowa State."

The Fayetteville Observer reported Nov. 21 that New York Jets running backs coach Jimmy Raye was contacted by MSU about the head coaching position.

Raye played for MSU from 1965-67, and many of his former teammates wrote MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon to encourage the hiring committee to consider Raye.

Another new candidate also had emerged. Former Spartan and current Miami Dolphins assistant head coach Charlie Baggett was interviewed, according to The Detroit News.

Baggett was a quarterback at MSU from 1973-75 and served as the wide receivers/associate head coach at MSU from 1995-98 before joining the NFL.

Steve Highfield, Kris Turner, Esther Gim and Nick Mrozowski contributed to this report.

Please check statenews.com throughout the day for more on this story and coverage of this morning's board meeting.

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