Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Deconstructing Little Brother

In his short time at Michigan State University, spartan head football coach Mark Dantonio has waged a very focused PR campaign against the University of Michigan football program. From his very first post game press conference when he paused the questions to ask for a moment of silence to commemorate Michigan's loss to Appalachian State; to trading insults with a 20 year old college student; to excusing his team's disgraceful performance at Penn State by pointing to Michigan's poor record, to rooting against his own teams' interest just to see Michigan lose; and to a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle jabs in the press, Dantonio has made it clear that he views Michigan as Public Enemy #1.

A good portion of his fan base has eaten this up, and love him for his comments. The same people who used to call Lloyd Carr classless have no problem with their coach engaging in message board type flaming in the media. To them his public disdain shows that he gets the rivalry, that he won't bow down to Michigan, and has the will to take MSU to the next level. As if all it takes to coach and recruit at an elite, or even above-average level is the will to do so.

The local media has bought the spin as well. Article after article has trumpeted the Spartan's Ascension or asserted that after two straight bowls and one win over the worst Michigan team in history MSU now owned the state of Michigan in recruiting. Like the fan base, they mistook attitude for accomplishment and voted MSU third in the Big Ten preseason poll despite the fact that they were outscored, out gained, and out first-downed (is that a verb?) in conference play last year, lost a two year starter at QB, and 90% of their rushing in Javon Ringer.

But the hopes of a fan base and the desire of journalists to write a new narrative doesn't erase 40 years of history, and one (or two) successful season does not dramatically change the direction of a program. Despite the feeling by many Spartans that Dantonio represents a radical departure from the past the results on the field and in recruiting don't really show that. Dantonio's first three classes have rankings (42, 47, 17 via Rivals; 51, 56, 37 via Scout) that are similar to John L Smith's last three classes (16, 35, 33 via Rivals; 13, 40, 43 via Scout). More importantly, Dantonio's record after 30 games is exactly the same as John L. Smith's.

That record continues an amazing trend with Spartan head coaches. Since 1973, when Duffy Daugherty stepped down, six out of eight spartan coaches have won 15, 16, or 17 games out of their first 30:

Denny Stolz (1973-1975) 16-13-1
Daryl Rogers (1976-1979) 16-12-2
Muddy Waters (1980-1982) 9-21
George Perles (1983-1994) 13-16-1
Nick Saban (1995-1999) 17-12-1
Bobby Williams (2000-2002) 15-15
John L Smith (2003-2006) 17-13
Mark Dantonio (2007- ) 17-13

That in a snapshot is Spartan football in the modern era: amazingly consistent, slightly above average.