Hunt: Dantonio ‘humbled’ as history looms

Mark Dantonio is on the cusp of history, but now he’s more humbled than ever


Photo: Siobhan Findlay/Impact

Aidan Hunt, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State’s matchup against Arizona State means a lot for the Spartans’ season, and perhaps even more to the legacy of Mark Dantonio.

But don’t tell him that.

Dantonio, in his thirteenth year as Michigan State’s head coach, tied Duffy Daugherty’s record for most wins by a head coach in Spartan football history last week with their win over Western Michigan. Now he and his team have the chance to break that record outright.

The Ohio native took over the reins from John L. Smith in 2007, having spent the previous three seasons as head coach at Cincinnati. 

That decision was easy for Dantonio, who was already familiar with East Lansing.

“I first came here in 1994 when we played Michigan State when I was at (Kansas),” Dantonio said Tuesday. “I came walking into that stadium and I saw the fans, I saw the green, greenery, the trees, the Red Cedar and Big Ten football atmosphere and I remember saying to my wife Becky, ‘This is Big Ten football, this is unbelievable.’ So you could recognize this was a special place at that time. When I had the opportunity to come in ‘95 with Coach Saban, obviously jumped at that opportunity.”

He coached the defensive backs at Michigan State for six years before being hired as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, where he spent three seasons before becoming head coach of the Bearcats. When the Spartans were looking for a new head coach, Dantonio was ready to return to the green and white.

“Then when I had the opportunity to come back here, I didn’t flinch and made that decision,” Dantonio said. “Really, there’s never been any point where I’ve even considered another position. So it’s been one of those places that’s been unique to myself and my family and gave my girls an opportunity to grow up and finish their high school and their college careers here which is so important sometimes in a coach’s life in terms of being able to keep your family in the same environment.”

12 years later, Dantonio has an impressive resume to boast from his time in control in East Lansing: three Big Ten Championships, two Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, six Bowl game wins and a trip to the College Football Playoff.

“I knew that we could have success here because I‘ve seen success in the past,” Dantonio said. “I think still to this day, Michigan State is a national brand.”

Now sitting atop the Spartans’ win list next to Daugherty at 109, it’s fair to assume Dantonio will sit alone atop that list soon whether or not MSU wins this Saturday against Arizona State; but when he does, Dantonio says it’s a “humbling experience”, considering all Daugherty did not just for Michigan State but college football as a whole.

“What I reflected on was Duffy Daugherty, really,” Dantonio said. “When you look at what he had accomplished, four national championships, two-time national coach of the year, coached 29 first-team All-Americans.

“I really believe he was a pioneer in the integration of college football. If you look back and you really study integration of college football, Michigan State had 20 African Americans playing in the ‘66 team, 11 starters.

“The guy’s on Time magazine. I’m not sure I’m as funny as he is, let’s say that right now. But I think that he really was a bigger-than-life type person. So when I reflect on this, on this next week … it’s sort of a milestone, but it really allows me to reflect back on history, the history of college football, and really what Duffy Daugherty did for the game of college football and what he did for the country in that respect.”

The football training facility at MSU is named after Duffy Daugherty, a reminder of what the legendary coach did for the Spartan football program. 

When Dantonio finally decides to hang it up and retire, which likely won’t be any time soon, there will surely be a building somewhere on campus in East Lansing with his name on it as well.

Twitter: @TheAidanHunt

Email: [email protected]