Nov. 27, 2006, was a day that changed the course of Spartan history forever. It was the day that Mark Dantonio and his staff took over for John L. Smith at MSU.
Nearly eight years, two Big Ten championships and one Rose Bowl title later, in the blink of an eye it has been 99 games under the current regime. Saturday, when No. 8 MSU (5-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) goes on the road to face Indiana, (3-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) it will be the 100th game for Dantonio at MSU.
It’s been a tenure marked by more than a 69-30 record, according to his players and coaching staff. It has been a tenure marked by honesty, excellence and change in the lives of the people on and off the field.
In the coaching carousel world of college football, it’s rare to find a staff that is able to stay together as long as the staff under Dantonio has.
“Probably the most important thing I did here was select our staff,” he said. “The continuity we’ve had as a staff has been largely responsible for our success both on the playing field and off.”
The lack of turnover has helped the staff become better coaches as well. Offensive line coach Mark Staten has been in East Lansing for all 99 previous games and said the staff has become a second family to him.
“You’ve got nine brothers who are going to help you out,” he said. “That’s what people don’t realize about Mark Dantonio. The stakes are higher than ever since we got here, yet he still keeps his family first.”
Staten has been with Dantonio since his days as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, dating back to 2003. He said when you’re with a staff for as long as they have been, sometimes complacency can come into effect, which is not always a good thing.
“Sometimes you can become comfortable, which is good and bad,” he said. “You don’t want to be too comfortable because you owe it to the people who you’ve grown together with to keep pushing the envelope.”
Staten said it has been fun over the years to watch how the families of the coaches interact.
“We were watching the TV yesterday and my 4-year-old saw Dantonio running around on the TV and he goes ‘there’s my buddy’”, he said. “It’s comfortable. When pieces fit together everything functions better.”
Through it all, Dantonio said he never expected to spend 100 games at one place and with his staff mostly intact.
“I really didn’t look at 100 games,” he said. “That’s almost unthinkable when you’re starting at No. 1. I think we tried to do it the right way and I think there’s been consistency in what we’ve done.”
A coach is only as good as his players, and his players will only play well if they respect their coach. MSU players respect their coach, the man who has been able to take lower-recruited players and make them NFL talents.
A consistent theme when players talk about Dantonio is that he has an honest approach to how he recruits and teaches football.
“The coaching staff preaches and teaches to us hard work, toughness and just beating the man across from you,” senior running back Nick Hill said. “One of the things I really admire about coach Dantonio is his honesty. Even when he was recruiting me, he was always honest with me.”
The personality of Dantonio can change, according to Hill, from one of quiet composure to the stereotypical screaming football coach.
“At times he’ll sit back and let the coaches do their job,” he said. “If he needs to step in, he’ll step in and be assertive. He has both sides in him.”
Sophomore linebacker Riley Bullough is part of the first family of Spartan football. He went to many games at Spartan Stadium as a kid before the success of the program. He said there is a noticeable difference between the culture of the program before and after the hiring of Mark Dantonio.
“I grew up a fan my whole life, and I can say the culture here is completely different from what it used to be,” he said. “The staff has been together so long and that’s kind of what makes it work. They’re really kind of like a family.”
Senior offensive lineman Travis Jackson is one of the longest tenured Spartans on the roster. He echoed what his teammates said about Dantonio and his staff being an honest group that preaches hard work.
“It’s been a special time to be a Spartan,” he said. “When he recruited me he talked about not only recruiting great players, but recruiting great people, and that was really important because you want to surround yourself with great people in college.”
Junior quarterback Connor Cook said that the accomplishments of the staff are important and should be celebrated, but all of the pomp and circumstance doesn’t mean a lot if the team doesn’t beat Indiana on Saturday.
“We’re trying to look at it as another game,” he said. “It’s another Big Ten game, and that’s how we look at it.”