Dantonio Takes More “Diplomatic” Approach While Discussing Michigan Rivalry

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has always been a heated one on the football field, but when Mark Dantonio took over as head coach of the Spartans in 2007, the teams were headed in different directions.

Michigan State was annually competing to simply make a bowl game while the Wolverines were focused on winning Big Ten titles and beyond.

The 2007 game marked a major turnaround in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Michigan won their sixth straight game in the series after coming back from a 10-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to win 28-24.

What Wolverine running back Mike Hart said after the game has cursed MSU’s rivals from Ann Arbor ever since.

“I was just laughing,” Hart said of Michigan State taking the lead. “I thought it was funny. They got excited. Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you’re playing basketball, and you let him get the lead, and then you come back and take it back.”

When asked about that quote after the game, Dantonio didn’t shy away from reporters, saying “The pride comes before the fall” and warning Michigan that it wasn’t over.

He certainly was right.

Dantonio got his first win over the Wolverines the next year in Ann Arbor and got another the next season in 2009. After winning a third straight in 2010, he took the opportunity to fire back at Hart’s comments from 2007.

“The only response I have is that maybe some day the little brother grows up,” he said.

Michigan State’s head man historically was never shy to deliver good quotes on his feelings about Michigan, but he was especially cautious this year to guard his tongue.

Dantonio took an onslaught of questions at his weekly press conference on Tuesday for over half an hour, many of which were designed to get him to produce a juicy quote that would be considered “bulletin board material”. However, Coach D did not take the bait.

“I try to be a little bit calculated in what I say and make sure I’m not offending people when I talk,” Dantonio said. “Sometimes in an emotional state, people have a tendency to tell you exactly what they feel.”

When reminded of his previous comments on the Michigan rivalry, he said “I don’t really think I’ve changed. I’m trying to be more diplomatic, civilized. A tone had to be set at that time.”

Although he has obviously made a conscious effort to watch what he says, Dantonio still does not shy away from the importance of Saturday’s game.

“[Michigan] is still the most important game on the schedule for me, personally, and for our program,” he said. “When you compete day in and day out with them – and that’s what we do for recruits – day in and day out, for fans, for everything. It carries over to volleyball, basketball, carries over to everything.”

The Spartans take on Michigan at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, looking to win their sixth matchup of the last seven games in this series and their second straight.

Dan Tyler is the host of the Spartan Red Zone for Impact Sports

Photo: Bradley Allen/Impact Sports