Lansing East – Mark Dantonio saw it all on Friday night.
Well, most anyway.
The former Michigan state football coach was eagerly awaiting the Spartans’ season opener as much as any fan, but he was at a wedding Friday night and found himself scrambling to get to on TV in time to kick off around 9:15 p.m.
So when Kenneth Walker III ran 75 yards in the first play of the scrum to give Michigan State a 7-0 lead on the way to a 38-21 victory over Northwestern, there is a chance that Dantonio l missed live. Don’t worry, though.
“I changed it very quickly,” he said with a smile.
Dantonio was in attendance on Tuesday as Alan Haller was introduced as the 20th athletic director for the state of Michigan, something he was directly involved in as a member of the search committee set up by the MSU president , Samuel Stanley.
“I was honored to be a part of it,” said Dantonio, “and I was grateful that President Stanley asked me to.”
Unsurprisingly, Dantonio fully endorsed the hiring of Haller, the former Michigan state football player and long-time sports department member.
“History is the best indicator, and the best teacher I think when you are going through hardship,” Dantonio said. “I think he went through some very unique situations that prepared him for his job. And I go back to what’s in a person’s heart and their integrity and their emotions and their opportunities and the enthusiasm that they carry with them.
“I think our players will rally around him. I think our student-athletes – men and women – will rally around their leader, and I think this is quite unique.
Of course, football is never far from Dantonio’s mind. The most successful coach in program history, who won three Big Ten Championships in 13 seasons and took Michigan State to the college football playoffs in 2015, resigned after the 2019 season but remained in East Lansing and worked for the university.
He admitted that last season was different, for him and for everyone.
“Eerie,” Dantonio described. “Not only was my first year away from football, but the way it all turned out was very strange.”
None of this has stopped him from staying on the program, stopping periodically to chat with coach Mel Tucker and see some practice when he’s not visiting former colleagues like Pittsburgh coach Pat. Narduzzi.
And from his perspective, Tucker has the program on the right track.
“I think Mel is an exceptional football teacher and coach,” said Dantonio. “He’s innovative, motivated to go out and generate success here. It all comes down to football being such a running game. The way you run defines what really happens, and the way players perform on the field during play makes all the difference in the world.
“Everyone has players and I can tell you this, it’s extremely difficult to win. So we’re 1-0, looking for a No.2 (win) to come, but it’s tough to win and I think he did a great job.
The next just happens to be against Youngstown State, a place where Dantonio worked. One of his mentors, Jim Tressel, also happens to be the president of the university. Dantonio has said they will go online this week, that’s for sure.
Until then, however, Dantonio would continue to enjoy his post-workout days.
“Retirement is good,” he says. “Everyone should try it, at least once.”