Today’s season-ending presser was a doozy (more on that later today) but one of the big highlights was Head Coach Mark Dantonio saying that his staff would remain untouched moving into 2017.
Dantonio reiterates no staff changes will be made, either to who's on staff or their responsibilities— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) December 15, 2016
It may upset fans, but this should not be surprising news. Dantonio has never openly “fired” a coach while at Michigan State, the closest he has come was not renewing Ted Gill’s contract. The other departures were Pat Narduzzi, Don Treadwell, Dan Enos and Dan Roushar all leaving for other opportunities on their own accord. That, in and of itself, is fairly remarkable given the volatility of today’s college football landscape.
Knowing that, there are two ways to look at this news.
One is through the green-tinted lenses of the optimist. Consistency among his coaching staff is what has gotten Dantonio’s program to this point and these coaches are (mostly) the same ones that oversaw trips to the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and College Football Playoff. They had a “Murphy’s Law” seasons dealing with injuries, attrition and underachieving upperclassmen. Every program has a down year and their messaging will resonate with the younger players whose roles grew as the season progressed. At this point, firing someone would just be to say you did it and not serve a true purpose.
The other view is that of the pessimist. This is the side that says Narduzzi was the real soul of those great teams, and the defense wasn’t really as good as you’d think in 2015 before completely falling off in 2016. This is the side that says Dave Warner was only able to orchestrate those record-setting offenses because he had Connor Cook bailing them out of third-and-longs. This is the side that says Dantonio’s allegiance will ultimately be his undoing.
The answer, as always, is somewhere in the middle. There are so many excuses that can be made about the team’s 2016 performance that have nothing to do with coaches — namely injuries and attrition — but there are some — like, stagnant offenses, poor halftime adjustments and special teams coverage busts — that fall directly in their lap.
Given their track record and what they’ve accomplished in the very recent past, they deserve to keep their jobs. That is the smart, safe decision, which is what Dantonio will do off the field most of the time. However, if more of the same issues continue next year, the calls for change — which were already very loud for some coaches — will increase in volume and frequency and the one of the longest-tenured Head Coaches in the Big Ten might be forced to shake things up like never before.