This is Mark Dantonio's program, so this is Mark Dantonio's team. That means whatever happens at Michigan State over the next two months -- up to and including a spot in the national championship game -- is his. The wins would be his. The potential championships, whether Big Ten or bigger, would be his as well.
Even if Dantonio stops coaching for the rest of the season.
|Mark Dantonio needs to look out for his health and stop coaching this season. (AP)|
Look, you know I'm not a doctor -- but I know this: Dantonio is coaching his team three weeks after a heart attack put him in the hospital for nearly three days. His body reacted negatively during the initial recovery process, forming a blood clot that put him back in the hospital for four more days.
That's what I know. So what I fear is this: Dantonio is putting himself at risk by returning to this cauldron of his creation.
Actually, that's another thing I know. Any coach would obviously be putting himself at risk by returning weeks after suffering a heart attack, then a clot, no matter the stakes of the season. And for No. 13 Michigan State (6-0), the stakes ratcheted up a notch Saturday at Michigan Stadium -- a game Dantonio described as "winner takes all" -- when the Spartans thumped Michigan 34-17 to join Ohio State and Iowa as the frontrunners to win the Big Ten title.
This Michigan State team is good, people. It's really freaking good. On offense the Spartans have experienced Kirk Cousins completing 68.3 percent of his passes, two backs (Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell) on pace to run for 1,000 yards and a deep core of receivers. The defense is good-not-great, but it features All-American linebacker Greg Jones and has been the only unit to slow down Heisman favorite Denard Robinson. And special teams? Spartans punter Aaron Bates averages 45.2 yards and kicker Dan Conroy hasn't missed in 35 tries -- 26 extra points, nine field goals.
This is a special football team. And that's a special coach. Dantonio? He's my favorite coach in college football. I'm allowed to have one, and he's it. He's tough, he's funny, he's disciplined and he's fearless. When he says something, I believe him. Three years ago when Michigan's Mike Hart called the Spartans "little brother," Dantonio warned that "pride comes before the fall." Since that disrespectful show of Michigan pride, there has been a spectacular Michigan fall. And the Spartans have contributed to that, winning three straight series games for the first time since the 1960s.
For a sports writer, the world is more interesting with Mark Dantonio in it. Plus, he's a good man. Good coach? Obviously. Good man? Just as obvious. All of which is why I'm asking him to take a step back from coaching for the rest of this season. I'd like him to be around for decades, winning at Michigan State or wherever his travels take him.
Again, I'm not a doctor, but what I saw after the game Saturday was discomforting. Dantonio walked slowly into the room for the news conference, sat down gingerly -- as you'd expect, considering the heart attack and blood clot in his leg -- and spoke quietly. His sports coat hung loosely from his shoulders, two sizes too big. His face was gaunt. He has been through hell, any idiot can see that.
And he's coming back?
No, scratch that. I know why. He's a coach, and this is his team. When a Michigan State radio announcer told him after the game Saturday that this team "might be the best medicine for him," there were a few seconds of radio silence; Dantonio was trying not to cry. It was a touching moment, and I believe with all my heart that rejoining the team isn't a selfish move by Dantonio. He's not trying to bask in the glory of a 6-0 season. He'd come back if the team were 2-4, because he'd want to help right the ship. Because, like I said, he's the coach. This is his team. He's taking responsibility, and that's what coaches do.
Well, most coaches.
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski prudently sat out the second half of the 1994-95 season with exhaustion and other issues, but when the Blue Devils went 4-15 under interim coach Pete Gaudet, the people at Duke -- whether it was Coach K or one of his minions -- had that awful record stuck to Gaudet. Which is insulting. Coach K recruited those players. He hired that coaching staff. He installed that system. That was his team. Those should have been his four wins, and yes, his 15 losses.
The same would go for Dantonio, if he would heed this advice. Whatever happens from here on out, this is his team. His players, his coaches, his plays. His. If the Spartans win the Big Ten title, it's Dantonio's title. Whatever bowl game they go to, it's on Dantonio's resume.
Best-case scenario, Michigan State wins the national title? The glory goes to Dantonio.
Worst-case scenario? Please. Don't make me type out the worst-case scenario. We all know the worst-case scenario, and I'm getting shivers just thinking about it.
Please stop for the rest of this season, Coach D. Please. Stop.