As a high school coach you appreciate the little things that people do to help you. Attending the Michigan High School Football Coaching Clinic in Kalamazoo is a nice way to get new ideas, discuss strategy as a staff, and learn from some of the best. I was sitting in the 9:30am session titled: “Issues Facing High School Football and Recruiting".
This was going to be a panel discussion led by Coach Dantonio, meant to educate coaches, parents and players on the rules and regulations that have to be met to even be eligible to be a college athlete. These rules are constantly changing. Let it be known that I would consider myself more of a Spartan fan, but certainly not a hater of the Wolverines. What transpired in this meeting should speak volumes as to what kind of person Spartan Nation has as a Head Coach in Mark Dantonio.
Coach Dantonio was introduced, takes the stage and mentions how happy he is to be there, and begins his brief opening by talking about coaching and the chance it gives us to impact young people’s lives.
He said, “It’s about building relationships and if you understand that is more important than winning a football game you’ve got a chance.” Coach then takes a seat on the stage. He spent more time talking about his time at Cincinnati then Michigan State.
Then Jeff Hecklinski, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for U of M, takes the stage. He immediately apologizes that he is there and not Coach Hoke, as he was in Houston as a nominee for the Bear Bryant award. He says he talked to Coach Hoke this morning and the last thing Hoke said was: “Don’t screw it up.” Folks, he did.
Coach Hecklinski begins to figuratively pat Coach Dantonio on the back with congratulations of a “good” season and a “good” bowl win against Georgia in the…he pauses slightly…Outback Bowl. At this point I look at Dantonio, because I’m already annoyed by this guy and can tell he is being facetious. Dantonio’s entire demeanor changed. He crosses his arms but sits and listens.
Hecklinski now begins a power point presentation on the ins and outs of Michigan recruiting. He is blowing hard about the fact that they are offering sophomores right now, and that they want to win the state of Michigan, and then he lines out their regional approach.
I check my phone to see that 10 minutes have passed with Hecklinski promoting Michigan (not what this was about) I was yawning and Mark Dantonio repeatedly checking his watch and wringing his wrists. At one point Coach Dantonio makes eye contact
with me, and noticeably I roll my eyes, Coach Dantonio then shifts in his seat reaches for the wireless mic attached to his belt and turned it on.
Coach Dantonio always talks about integrity. What happened next was coach acting on integrity. You see, this “panel” had been hijacked. The other members hadn’t even been brought to the stage yet, well over 12 minutes into Hecklinski’s infomercial. Coach Dantonio acted on integrity. He jumped up out of his seat, and said, “Okay we’ve heard enough about the University of Michigan. How many of you (he asks the high school coaches in attendance) have a player going to the Big Ten even, we don’t have all day for this. Let’s get these other guys up and get going. Let’s go.”
Coach Hecklinski was absolutely stunned, red faced, and didn’t say a word. He just retreated to his chair…at the far end away from Dantonio, and didn’t speak until spoken to later.
The room went silent and some just started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. In some way I maybe expected Coach Dantonio to do something. After all, the integrity of the session had been broken someone had to restore it and he was the moderator. Who else would? The members of the panel joined the two coaches and went on to give an informative, educational presentation and discussion. Things were restored.
Make no mistake, coaches were absolutely buzzing with what transpired. Next to me I heard from another coach, “This just got really interesting”, and “Whoa, that U of M guy just got ‘bitch slapped’ didn’t he?”
People outside the session were asking, “Did Dantonio really do that?” “Was it rude?” Let me be clear as a high school coach, it was the right thing to do. Coach D was a proponent and leader amongst a large room of coaches, for the coaches. It may not have been directly linked to a wonderful rivalry, but I promise you it has become part of it.
I have no doubt that if Brady Hoke were doing what Jeff Hecklinski was doing; Dantonio would have done the same exact thing, because it was the right thing. Coach Dantonio does not just preach, but he lives it. I am more confident in that now than I ever have been.
True to what I opened with, I appreciated that Dantonio did this for me. I wasn’t in this session to be sold on a school, I was there to learn how to better serve and prepare our future college student-athletes, and I appreciate that Coach Dantonio allowed that to happen appropriately. And as for the rivalry, “It’s not over, and it never will be.” Isn’t that what Coach Dantonio says?
Jeff Hecklinski, a True Blue Michigan Man