SPARTANS COACH MARK DANTONIO
December 18, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I don't think we've had a press conference since the championship game, so I want to congratulate our football team on this opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl. Exciting time for us. You look at Stanford right now and they're a football team that's been in four straight, I think, four straight BCS games, so they've been to that mountain a little bit. They've been there. This is new for us.
I think that the most important thing that we have to do when we move to L.A. here a week plus from now is to handle success. That will be our mindset as we move forward and need to be ready to play and play with a lot of energy and those type of things. So it will be another tremendous challenge for us, but another great opportunity.
With that said, winning the Big Ten Championship is something that we've pointed to, dreamed about for quite some time since coming here. To win it outright and win it in a championship type format, those type of things it's a goal attained. Now we need to go and win in a bowl game.
I think the best thing to do in these type of situations, because I really don't know what to talk about, I had a little scope of my knee but I threw away the crutches when I walked in here, so I'll take questions and go from there. All right.
Q. One of the things you love most about bowl practice is experiments. Moving guys around, getting looks at guys. You haven't had a ton of practices, so what are your anticipations for where guys will get looks at?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll move some guys around from our defensive line to the offensive line and create some opportunities there. Especially the two guys we want to look at is James Bodanis, an offensive linemen here in this postseason area, then also Brandon Clemons. Those are two of the guys we want to look at. Riley Bullough will be moving over to linebacker, so he'll get opportunities there, and we'll see if we can get him game ready or not. It would be nice to play him a couple snaps in the bowl game just because of the opportunities that may lie ahead for him. But we'll see how that all works out. Obviously, he's a fixture on our special teams.
Q. Not often that you get a Top 5 match?up in a game like this. Reading a lot about both teams, clearly you have senior classes that have accomplished a lot. Do you see some parallels between the two programs that have built from where you were to where you are today, two Top 5 programs?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I see a lot of parallels. When you look at Stanford, they're a football team that's going to get it done fundamentally. I think they play with a tough mindset. Their rosters are senior dominated. We have quite a few seniors, especially on our defensive side of the field.
Our offensive line, we have three seniors in there as well. But senior wideout. But a lot of similarities in terms of how they play and how we play in terms of what's going on. It will be a game where you're going to see a fullback in the game some, and you could look a lot of different teams across the country right now, and they don't really have that type of match?up. So you'll see that at times in both offenses it will be a great match?up though.
Q. What has life been like for you in the last nine or ten days since winning that game?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's been hectic. A lot of opportunities go with winning games like that. Darqueze Denard was a finalist for the Nagurski Award, so I was in Charlotte for that. Max Bullough, a finalist up in New York City for scholarship athlete. Back down to Orlando with Darqueze where he won the Jim Thorpe Award, which was very exciting for him. Then, obviously, just the going and coming. So it's been?? it's been a fast week, week?and?a?half that's gone by very, very quickly.
Q. Have you been able to enjoy it though? Enjoying it at home or with colleagues?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it's been pretty much back to business. Right now we're in preparation for Stanford, so there is really not a lot of time to sit back and say this is what we've accomplished. I think you do those things at the end of the season, and our season will end on January 1st.
Q. In this past week or so here, Pat Narduzzi had the opportunity at Connecticut and decided to stay here. Talk about what that means to your program that Pat will appear to be around another year and what he means to you guys?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, we have outstanding coaches on our staff. When you look across the board and you really do want to go through our guys individually almost. You look at our defensive backs. How many football teams in the country have four defensive backs that are All?Conference? Three first team All?Conference and one second. Harlon Barnett has done a tremendous job. Our linebackers, what has Max Bullough done? What's Denicos Allen done? How valuable has Taiwan Jones been? Our defensive line, what kind of difference did Ron Burton make with our defensive line?
Obviously, Pat Narduzzi is the coordinator and does a tremendous job. I think him staying here sends a message that things are good here. Things are very positive here and he'll leave for the right position at the right time and not before then. Because I think he enjoys the aspect of being here and his players and our players and the program and those type of things.
You look at the offensive side of the ball, what kind of difference did Jim Bollman make? Dave Warner calling the plays. Then also Jeremy Langford, what a difference maker he was this year. Look at our offensive line and the number of sacks given up. Mark Staten has done a tremendous job. Our wide receivers are catching the ball, Terrence Samuel did an outstanding job. Brad Salem and the development of our quarterbacks, great job. I've already talked about Coach Bollman what he's brought to the table.
Our guys have done an outstanding job, I think, across the board. You look at our special teams, same thing. You can point to the players who are doing things. Want to congratulate Mike Sadler on his first team All?American. I think he's ESPN selection, Shilique Calhoun, first team All?American. I can't keep all of them straight. But first team All?American as well. Obviously, Darqueze has been named to almost every All?American team.
But our staff has done an outstanding job. It's my home we can keep our entire staff together. But with that being said, I also understand people look around and say what are they doing at Michigan State? So we're going to have guys that are going to be highly sought after, and it's my intention to do the best we can to keep all of our staff and certainly going back to your first question, having Coach Narduzzi remain here is a big aspect for us. Good friend, very loyal, and also an outstanding coach, as I would say about every one of our coaches.
Q. You were talking about the assistants one by one. I wanted to ask you specifically about Dave Warner. Early in the season when we would interview him, it looked like he had a pretty tough job with the way you were moving quarterbacks in and out. Did you ever have to put your hand on his shoulder and say you're being graded on a curve right now. I know I'm moving quarterbacks, but it seemed the play calling had to change with every quarterback. It seemed that would have been a tough task for Dave.
COACH DANTONIO: He's an outstanding coach. I've known Dave since 1991, so we go back a long ways. Yeah, I understand. Players make plays, guys. Players make plays. I've said that many times in here. What we need to do is structurally be sound in what we're asking them to do, offensively, defensively and special teams. Then also put them in the best situation that their abilities allow, and that is coaching. In the end, the players make the plays. As long as we have a good plan, a good, structured plan, a well thought?out plan, as long as we're always critiquing what we do and trying to move forward with the plan, whether we're successful or not successful, hopefully we're learning things.
I've always had great faith in him as a coach. I've seen what he's done with Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins as a coach. There was no doubt in mind he was going to be successful in what he was doing. I also said as I think earlier I think Brad Salem has done a tremendous job with our quarterbacks, and that was a position that there was transition in a very media?frenzy way. So it goes with the territory.
Q. Coach, you talked about seeing if the players can deal with the success that they've had winning a Big Ten title. It seems all year there's either been the defense coming up with a big turnover to seal the win or with the last two months, Jeremy getting kind of that nail?in?the?coffin score. Have you really already seen the fact that at least in game they can deal with success and how does that translate now into the biggest game of the year?
COACH DANTONIO: I have seen that. We've seen that they're able to go and deal with success. To me it's about getting yourself ready to play in every game and being able to handle the adversity in that game. Not being flat, preparing, not take things for granted.
I think our football team is doing that. But every time you take a step forward, a big step forward, I think you have to evaluate where you're at and ask yourself, are we doing everything we can to get ready? What is the attitude? We coach attitude. So while our seniors may feel like they understand what the ramifications are there because they've been through some things, how are our younger players handling all of this? How are they handling it moving forward in their development as players too, and that's important. So far, so good.
Q. When you look back to where you took over the program, is there a lot of, I guess, maybe character or mindset changes that you had to do with the players that you're bringing in? How do you feel that the mindset and character of the players have changed over the seven years that you've been here?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I had, we call them our Eagles, but our leadership council today, and Kirk Cousins will be honorary captain for this football game. But more importantly, what I said to them was that everybody shares in this process, that this process started back in 2006 and 2007, so the Kaleb Thornhills, and the guys back then, the Javon Ringers and Travis Keys, those type of guys, the Ervin Baldwins, all these guys have had a place in my heart and they've had a part of this process. So they should enjoy in this as well, and that's my hope. Everybody that's come through here in the past seven years all has a part or a piece of this.
How has attitude changed? I think attitudes have changed basically with the young people. I think the world is a little different today than it was five or six years ago in terms of the social network, the way people go about their business. How have attitudes and the culture changed since I've come here? When I came here in 2007, that first spring, that first winter conditioning program, our players embraced it. Our players embraced it at that time. They knew it was tough and we started changing the way we went about thinking about things.
But there was nobody holding back from us. Everybody wanted to be successful. They wanted to be just as successful as their football team is right now. That's always been gratifying to me. They've given everything they've got, and I've always felt that.
Q. Have you gotten a sense of a change in outside perception about the program since the Ohio State win this season, or are you too much in a bubble here?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I live in a bubble a little bit. So, no, I really know there are a lot of things written out there, but your performance on the field, things that we go through, that changes perceptions, obviously. That doesn't make it reality. That just changes perceptions as we move forward. You know, we're moving up the chain. I don't think that that game by any means was a fluke if that's what people are asking. You can print that one.
Q. Kind of a follow?up to your earlier question and your earlier response. Otis Wiley on the field after that, he looked like he was still playing he was so happy. I think I said to him this is for all you guys that couldn't do it. I'm wondering if since that game how many former players you've heard from or if you could share any conversations you've had in dialogue in the last eight to nine days?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, lot of former players, a lot of Texas, a lot of just that overwhelming feeling like not just that this football team did it, but that we did it. That collective group that since 2007 so many players like Kaleb Thornhill and et cetera, I can go on and on about people making plans to be at the game. They're coming to the football game doing this, doing that. So they're going to be there for this football game.
So, again, you go back and look at what Stanford has been able to accomplish in the last four years?? I guess it's been four?? BCS teams the last four years, they've got that. That's their standard right now. This has to become our standard. This is the first time we've been to a BCS game, but we've climbed a ladder. There is no question we've climbed a ladder and we've scratched to get there. That's what makes this a little bit of a unique story, I think.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO: We've been trying to build this culture. I feel like we've been on the cusp of this three out of the last four years. Feel like we sort of looked past them in 2010. I still feel that way, even though we didn't measure up in the bowl game. But that was a pretty good football team, and we were there in that environment. But the 2011 team was very close to being here in this same situation, and now we have the opportunity.
But the more times you get there, the more opportunities you have to get over the hump, I think, too.
Q. Coach, the balance of enjoying the bowl experience, and it's going to be an incredible experience, with getting your team ready and performing on the field. You seem to have figured it out the last couple years. What is the key to balancing those things?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we need to keep our players fresh. We have to have a fresh mind and fresh bodies. We have to be rested, no question about that, and we have to be prepared. We have to be able to handle adversity, and you have to understand you're playing against a very good football team. So you need to be able to respond on a big stage. I think we've done that.
The championship game was a big stage. We've had some big stages, like I said, around here. But that's a part of it, so we're going to work on it.
Q. You talked about your staff being sought after by other people and when Mack Brown resigned on Friday, some people in the media floated your name as a candidate for that job if you were interested. I guess what is your reaction to that? Is that a sign of respect of where this program is that would see your level of success and say you could go on to bigger things?
COACH DANTONIO: I guess the way I'd answer that question is I see Michigan State as the destination, not a stop. That's how I see it. Flattering, but that's how I see it.
Q. With playing in a January game, it takes the window up to recruiting so close. You presently for the 2014 class do not have a committed quarterback. I know you told us in the past your desire is to have one per class. Do you anticipate pursuing one?
COACH DANTONIO: That's a good question. Basically, it depends on the pursue?ee, I guess you'd say. So we'll see how that all shakes out. I don't feel like that's a necessity. I feel like we have three outstanding quarterbacks right now. We may go in a different direction in terms of our numbers and the numbers of scholarships and those type of things and the needs of our football team.
Q. What about for you? Have you changed as a coach? Anything significantly, maybe even from a few years ago when you had the adversity? Have you changed anything significantly in that time?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope I've gotten better. I think you're always trying to get better as a person or player as a coach. You hope that all these experiences shape you in a positive way, whether they're a negative experience or positive experience. You hope that you learn from them and you grow.
But you'd have to ask my wife. She probably knows. She might not give you the right answer though.
Q. As a BCS Bowl setting, will you approach this somewhat differently that be the past bowls you've been at that have been non?BCS bowls?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that the bowls we've gone to it's sort of like what is the time you have out there, what commitments do you have with that time. I think besides that, the police escorts, all those things, those are all at every bowl we've been to, they're outstanding bowls. There is a big?time feel to all of the bowls we've been to. So I don't see that being much of a change.
I think the day of the game, it may be a little bit different the day of the game. But I know there are going to be a lot of Spartans out there, so it will feel like home. I also know that, so that's exciting for us.
Q. I know it's early in the preparation, but has it hit you yet that this is going to be the last time preparing for a big game with this senior class with guys like Max, Denard, Blake that have been here and climbed the ladder as you sid, or is there no time to be sentimental and look at things like that yet?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there is time. We talked about that relative to our Senior Day out here. Emotional experience. We talked about that today again with that group that I talked to you about. When you take that uniform off, I don't care where you're playing. I don't care if it's high school or college, when you take your uniform off, that is a tough deal. When you think of the sacrifices and hardship and joy, and all the emotions that come around when you play high school football at any level. When you take that off, you just don't know what the future holds for you. Is it professional football? Maybe. Is it not? Is it a job? What is it? There is a void in your life that's going to occur at that point in time.
It has made me think, okay, Max Bullough and some of those guys, Blake Treadwell, and these guys Darqueze and Isaiah, and all these guys that have been with us for four and five years that have sacrificed a lot and been through a lot with us. We've been through a lot together. That is part of life at this level. It's part of being on a college football team in this case, and we're going to embrace that. It's a special time. But when that time happens, we want them to take off their jerseys as a winner. It's important that we finish and finish in a positive way. I'm sure everybody points towards that as their individual program. That's what we'll attempt to do. It will be a great challenge and opportunity to do that as well on January 1st.
Q. Riley Bullough, when he moves back, how many of his reps will be at middle linebacker?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll have small opportunity periods within bowl practice structured for our young players this week. When we get out there, it's going to be business as usual. But this week we'll do some of that. So he'll play either Sam backer or Mike linebacker, we'll probably not put him at the star. We'll try to find a place for him in there. Shane Jones starts practicing again as well. Sean Harrington is a guy that's shown a lot of things throughout the years, so he'll have an opportunity as well a little bit in there to show some things. Then we already have a core of linebackers, obviously, that are coming back that are very good. But that's the plan?
Q. How about Dan France, is he going to be able to go?
COACH DANTONIO: Dan France, I think he'll be able to go. He's looking good. He won't practice today, but I think he'll go towards the end of the week. I think, I think he'll be ready. But obviously you have?? it's a statement saying are you going to be ready to play. It's another statement saying are you going to be ready to play well enough. Just because you're ready to play, you need to play better than the guy behind you too. So that's a part of this too, but I think he'll make the game. I think he'll be dressed, and I think he'll make the game.
Q. Forgive me, about bowl distractions, you've been to enough bowl games to maybe learn some things from it. But doesn't a Rose Bowl take on a life of its own? Players are going to hear from high school friends they haven't heard from in years and family members. How do you guard against these distractions as opposed to embracing the whole experience?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm sure they're all going to hear from different people. They'll see some movie stars and things like that, that's all a part of this. We'll try to make life moments for our players, and I think this will be a life moment. So we'll embrace it. At the same time they need to focus on the job and task at hand too. That is the thing that they have to be able to do. That is called maturity and handling success.
So we'll find out more about us as we move forward. That's always I think something special when we're going to grow. There is no question about that. We're going to grow. So January 1st, we'll see how we're growing. But it's going to be exciting.
Q. All the players are excited about this. But talk about Fou Fonoti, specifically, a guy who came in as a junior college guy. How quickly he bought into everything here and he talked about being able to bring his team back home. How excited is he right now?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, he's very excited. Fou is a tremendous person. When he made the decision to come here from California to come here and he became an immediate starter for us, it was a big sacrifice because he knew he was coming to a place a long way from home. He knew his family was going to have to travel to get here and see him play games. He's got a very close girlfriend that's been with him through the entire thing. So his family has done that. It's a huge sacrifice not just for him but his family as well. He's paid that price.
Now to be able to go back and be at the Rose Bowl where his grandfather can see him play, you rally can't put a price tag on it. It's an emotional thing. It's an emotional thing for his family. It will be something that I think all of our players are going to really embrace for him. So it will be a special time.
Q. Fou's position seems to be the spot next year that's maybe the biggest question mark. I guess if Clark moves inside and you have the other spot handled. Are Bodanis and Clemons getting looks at that spot? Who are you looking at at right tackle?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's too far. We're not far enough along in the future yet. We've got to see what they can do. Those type of things. But Kodi Kieler is also a guy that's a good player and as a young player he's shown good signs of doing some things. Obviously, Conklin can move over and play right. Donavon's played left. So we have to see how it all fits in there as we move forward. Those decisions probably won't be made until sometime during spring or after spring.
Q. Getting the program to this point to a Rose Bowl this year before the new playoff takes hold where a Big Ten Championship may not lead to this direct path in the future. How important was that coming to you? Did you know it might have to be this year because that might not be the path?
COACH DANTONIO: I really didn't think about that. I just sort of thought about where was the Big Ten champion usually going to go? In this case he was going to go there either way. So that was our goal. Our goal was first to get to the championship game. I can't tell you how many times football teams across the country stick their hands in the middle of 100 people and say on three. We say on one on one, and they say Big Ten champions. That goes on across the country regardless what conference you're in. They just change it up.
I can't tell you how many times we've done that over the past seven years. We put our hands in there like that and to be able to do that at the end of that football game last Saturday was as rewarding as anything maybe we've done, as any ring or anything that we've done.
The champion of that conference goes to the Rose Bowl, and that's what?? that is the next step, win the Rose Bowl and be Rose Bowl champions. But there is a big plaque out there on the side of that stadium that has 2014 and who played in it, or 2010, who played in it. I'm not sure how big they are, maybe the size of this table. But when I was out there this May, there was one out there from 1988 that had Michigan State on it, and our goal was to put Michigan State under that 2014 plaque, and that got accomplished. So that's a big accomplishment for our program, and something that we've tried to hammer home and we were able to do that.
Q. With finals finishing up, I wanted to make sure everybody was on pace. Did you lose anybody?
COACH DANTONIO: Not to my knowledge, no, no. We should be good in that area, very good.
Q. You talked about perception, maybe that perception isn't necessarily reality yet. I'm wondering about playing a non?conference opponent like a Stanford as far as the measuring stick that it puts out there for Michigan State. Obviously there are critics in different regions of the country. How important is it to win this game for Michigan State to take that next step. Not just to be there, not just to make it, but to be able to compete with a four?time BCS team.
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's very important. We're up there, and we want to show that we deserve to be up there. So it's very important. You're on a big stage, you get to the championship, and you're on a big stage. While we took care of business there and we showed that we belonged on that stage. Now it's important to show that we belong on this national stage.
I heard today there's only one football team that's won more than 13 games in the Big Ten's history, and that was the 2002 championship team at Ohio State which won 14. There's never been another team that's won 13. So there is an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done in 105 years from what I understand what was said.
So these opportunities don't come around much. You've got to win 12 more to get to 13. So you'd have to win 12 more next year to get to 13. We're a lot closer right now than we would be next year. So it's an opportunity to step up and show who we are. It's an opportunity to do our thing there. So we're just excited about it. I think our players are. Again, it will be a great challenge versus Stanford, and they're a proven football team. But we'll bring our guys out and see what happens.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH DANTONIO: Parts of it might.
Q. If you could talk a little more about him. How much of a comfort is it for you to have a punter of that quality? How difficult is it and can people understand how difficult it is for him to do what he's done in the classroom as well as on the field?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Michigan State's had a history of great punters here. They really have. Aaron Bates when I first came here in 2007 became a starter for us for four years, and now Mike Sadler is in his junior year and will be a senior next year. He's done an unbelievable job. He is money putting it down inside the 10. He can hit them 60. You know, he's a left?footed guy, so he'll turn the other way a little bit. He's done a great job really handling pressure situations, whether that's picking up a bad snap at Ohio State two years ago or whether that's running a fake. He's been a holder for us.
You really can't put a price on what he's meant to this football team. To do that without ever getting a B, ever, he's a straight?A student here. He came in with 46 hours of advanced placement classes, so he was, I guess, almost a junior when he walked in the door. He's got his office over here. He's working on his doctorate, and hopefully next year he'll have an opportunity to be a Rhodes Scholar. We'll find out.
But those type of things are immeasurable for this program, I think, just in terms of what he's been able to do. The way he's done it and gone about it has been a classy way. He's a great individual right here from Michigan. So I still remember the day I was driving back from the Big Ten media day. Pulled over into McDonald's and he called me on the phone to say he was coming to Michigan State. Know exactly where that was. Every time I drive by there, I say, Yep, that's where Mike Sadler told me he was coming.
So he's been a very important figure and player in this program really for the last three years, but especially this year.