Even if he loses to Rutgers, don't put Mark Dantonio on any seat
Things often happen so quickly in college football that we don’t have time to process them.
Jumping to conclusions is a natural byproduct of the 24-hour news cycle. We talk about what’s wrong, what can be done to fix it and demand that our solutions are heard.
There are still people trying to comprehend how Michigan State went from a national title contender to a two-win team in a matter of two months. Some blamed the quarterback situation. Others put it all on the coaching staff. In the midst of it all, there’s a boiling frustration in East Lansing that’s unprecedented in the Mark Dantonio era.
MSU has never experienced a seven-game losing streak under Dantonio. He’s never missed the postseason in nine years at MSU. Barring some sort of miracle — three wins and an APR tiebreaker — that streak will end.
It’s the worst start to B1G play in school history. With a loss to lowly Rutgers, MSU would somehow drop to a new low. Some are still struggling to process how unthinkable that would be for a program that’s 10 months removed from being a game away from a national championship.
MSU fans want answers, and understandably so. But even if the Spartans lose Saturday and end the season on a 10-game losing streak, Dantonio’s future shouldn’t be in doubt.
There probably aren’t a ton of people who realistically believe Dantonio’s job is on the line. Even a place like Auburn, which fired Gene Chizik two years removed from winning a national title, wouldn’t do that.
But there’s a chance that if MSU falls to Rutgers at home, Dantonio will have his share of doubters. That’ll be a prisoner-of-the-moment reaction if things don’t work out on Saturday. Even with a win, it’s an absolutely lost season and Dantonio deserves the blame for some of that.
Remember how everyone was arguing three months ago that Dantonio was a better coach than Jim Harbaugh? Many believed that Dantonio was behind only Nick Saban and Urban Meyer for the best in college football. They argued that Dantonio completely rebuilt the program and turned it into a national power.
Hasn’t he heard the right to do that again?
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Dantonio inherited a program that went 1-7 in the B1G the year before. He took over a place that lacked fan support and was dominated in its own recruiting backyard. MSU was a middle-of-the-pack program that was desperate to find the football equivalent of Tom Izzo.
It got that in Dantonio. It still has that in Dantonio, no matter how bad this season finishes out. The body of work over the last 10 years is better than any B1G coach. Five 11-win seasons, four division titles and four top-six finishes speak for themselves.
If Dantonio became available tomorrow, nearly every program in the country would take a run at him. The stench of MSU’s season is because of on-the-field issues. Dantonio, as far as we know, runs a clean program. Recruits aren’t dropping like flies, either. He also just produced the best senior class in Michigan State history, many of whom came back to school when they could’ve left early.
It would be one thing if Dantonio lost his program. As he said, the program isn’t in disarray. Sure, there have been a few “violations of team rules” and things classified as “internal matters” but that’s what happens to a team when it’s in the middle of a seven-game losing streak.
People point fingers. People want answers. People demand change.
That’s the way of the world. Dantonio is the face of arguably the most drastic season-to-season free fall in college football history. There’s no guarantee that Dantonio, who could lose his top recruit ever in Malik McDowell to the NFL, will turn it around in 2017.
The hope is obviously that this is just a bump on the road of Dantonio’s legendary career. Woody Hayes won three games two years after winning a national title. Paul “Bear” Bryant finished eighth in the SEC in 1969. That was two years before he led Alabama to eight SEC titles and three national championships over a nine-year stretch.
Is Dantonio in the same breath as those coaches? Not yet, but like them, he earned the opportunity to survive a bad season or two.
Don’t put Dantonio anywhere near the hot seat. Process the body of work. Process what MSU would’ve looked like in the last decade without Dantonio. Process how daunting it would be to start from scratch in arguably the best division in college football.
Most rebuilds require a new coach. Fortunately for the Spartans, they already have their man.