For a three-year span, Michigan State was one of the best schools in the Big Ten and even the country. The Spartans racked up a record of 36-5 over that span including two Big Ten Championships and one playoff berth. That’s a pretty impressive resume no matter what conference your school plays in.
So, what the heck happened?
There were signs of it in 2015. It took a fluke blocked punt for them to beat Michigan, close wins against Purdue and Rutgers, and then finally an absolute destruction by Alabama in the playoffs. That was before the wheels really came off in 2016 with more losses (nine) than they’d had in the previous three years. If you didn’t watch it, it was ugly.
Really it comes down to one thing: why is Michigan State afraid of success?
College football is a game of adaptation. The game changes and if you don’t change with it, you’re going to be left in the dust. Unless you have the absolute top talent like Nick Saban, you need to change with the times.
Michigan State had a crop of very talented players but all of them, including a very underappreciated quarterback in Connor Cook, left after the 2015 season. Most coaches would adapt their coaching schemes to what was left but not Mark Dantonio and his staff. They continued to run the same schemes that they ran with a quarterback that had NFL potential. The starter in 2016, Tyler O’Connor, did not have that type of talent but they kept asking him to try and make those same throws.
You know what good coaches do when things change? They adapt. Look at Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Lose your Heisman candidate quarterback to injury? Replace him with another Heisman candidate and then replace him when he’s injured all the way to a National Championship.
Now hold up you’re probably saying. You’re probably thinking that I’m just some Michigan slappy who’s hating on Michigan State because come on, didn’t Michigan just revert to the offense that they ran in the 80’s? The sure did but Jim Harbaugh has that top level of talent like Saban and Alabama.
Besides, there’s more than one way to adapt.
The coaching game has changed and Michigan State is not keeping up. Maybe they don’t want to spend the money or maybe Dantonio is more concerned with making his friends happy but look at his coaching staff. Look at his defensive coordinator, Harlon Barnett. Barnett has been with Dantonio since 2004. Yes, there were some good years in there so clearly, he makes a lot of money, right? That’s why no one has managed to swipe him yet, right?
Funny story there: he actually made less money than Drew Mehringer who was the Rutgers offensive coordinator in 2016. Yes, that Rutgers. The one that went 2-10. That team pays their coaches better than the winner of two of the last four Big Ten Championships. So, he makes less than coordinators at terrible schools and no one has bought his services. Kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, Oregon and Michigan were competing to hire Michael Johnson mostly because they thought it would help their respective schools land his prospect son.
Speaking of recruiting, that battlefield has changed as well. You have the above-mentioned battle to hire a single coach in the hopes of landing a 2019 prospect and you have, of course, satellite camps. Made famous by the probably insane Jim Harbaugh, you knew they were a good idea when the SEC tried to get them outlawed. You know who’s bringing in top recruiting classes? Not Michigan State who didn’t host or take part in any of them.
So, let’s tally up that scorecard again:
- Not adapting to player talent
- Not hiring top coaches
- Not adapting to the new recruiting world.
That’s not a recipe for success. Dantonio is promoting the guys that are loyal to him even though guys like offensive coordinator Dave Warner are showing that they are basically incompetent in their roles. Being loyal to your friends is good but this is a business and if he’s not willing to put money into it, he’s going to find himself looking for another job pretty soon against what might be 2017’s hardest schedule.
Him and his friends.
E-mail Tim at tim [dot] bach [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @tbach84.
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