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Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio goes all-in with 2-7 off-suited hand

With the announcement of an unscheduled press conference with Mark Dantonio yesterday afternoon, the hearts of every Michigan State Football fan started to beat with anticipation. Thoughts were flying through Twitter, with eager hands rubbing together slowly. “He’s going to finally ax some of these clowns,” most thought. Then, at 4:19 PM, Graham Couch broke their hearts via Twitter:

…and the sounds of broken Spartan hearts was heard echoing across the country.

It was to Michigan State football fans what gasoline is to a forest fire. After a season that ended with the offense putting up six points in three out of four performances including an embarrassing 7-6 loss to Oregon in the Red Box Bowl to end the season, it was time to make bold changes. Spartan fans were clamoring for Coach Dantonio to show that fire and passion which has endeared him in the hearts of the Spartan faithful by taking the program back to the heights achieved in 2015 when they lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semi-final. All of that hope and expectation over the last three weeks was gone. No major changes would be forthcoming. Heck, almost no changes happened period!

Instead, Mark Dantonio stepped up to the podium with a circuitous speech that seemed to be focused on delaying the inevitable reveal. He did, however, start the announcement calling the moves “the most significant change” to his coaching staff in 12 years. Really? In reality, he simply shuffled around the titles and responsibilities of the same five offensive coaches as outlined in the tweet above.

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Same old story

This same group of coaches led an offense that finished the season ranked 116 in total offense which is the bottom ten percent of the CFP division. That performance came on the heels of similar results in 2016 and 2017 under the same staff. It is truly baffling to think about the decision that Dantonio made. When any other organization is failing you don’t see the CEO come out and move the vice presidents around and simply shuffle the deck. You don’t go all-in before the flop with 2-7 off-suited when you’re at the final table. You fire people! Now, maybe not everyone has to go. If Brad Salem is truly great then promote him. However, to keep on the likes of Dave Warner and simply demote him is seemingly unprecedented when you consider how dismal the offense has been.

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Logical reasoning or flat out excuses

Many have speculated why Dantonio would make, or not make, these decisions. Some of these explanations include:

  • He was putting people back to their best positions as coaches.
  • The school has no money to get top-notch coaches so he has to work with what he has.
  • Dantonio has lost his fire and cannot have the tough conversations with people.
  • He is close to retiring and wants to keep the peace with all of his friends.
  • Dantonio is simply loyal to the end and expects the same in return.

You could make arguments for most of these, but Dantonio is grasping at his final straw. He talked about multiple opportunities new Offensive Coordinator (former QB Coach) Brad Salem had turned down over the last few seasons at Power Five conference schools and touted his loyalty to the program

“I convinced Brad Salem (to stay) the course here for three years in a row.”

This is also evidenced by his backing of Brian Lewerke as the starting QB in 2019. While all of that may be true, and loyalty is certainly important, it is hard to find a really compelling argument for this group of coaches to be successful. It becomes even more difficult to understand when you consider that the players will essentially be hearing from the same voices. How does Salem take over as the voice of the offense with Dave Warner still walking the sidelines?

The one detail that has been overshadowed, but is most interesting: the promotion of Mike Tressel to Assistant Head Coach. This is a possible indication that Coach Dantonio is really putting in motion the fourth argument: he is getting close to retiring and trying to set the program up with the people in place that he wants when he walks away. It is very reminiscent of what former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops did when he suddenly stepped down from the Sooners football program leaving Lincoln Riley in charge.

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The job that that Dantonio has done to turn around this program and make it relevant is commendable. His effort has earned him the benefit of the doubt that he has the right intentions with these moves. Maybe Brad Salem is the real deal. Maybe he is a young, creative, offensive mind as he has been described by Dantonio. Unfortunately for Spartan fans,  that this has all possibly come a day late and a dollar short. After such a horrendous performance all season, why did it take so long to make any changes? How does Dave Warner keep his job? How will this make any impact on the uninspired performances the offense has put in? These are all questions that Dantonio is staring down the barrel of, and they are all questions Spartan fans should be demanding answers for. Only, it doesn’t seem like they’ll get the answers they’re looking for any time soon.

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