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Sunday, October 6, 2013

REAR-VIEW MIRROR: I'm not a Psychologist, I just Play One in this Post.

I have always felt that it would take a truly special coach to build and maintain a consistent winner and contender in East Lansing. I have been vocal in my belief that Mark Dantonio is that guy. Not that he brings the best Xs and Os to the sideline, but instead I believe he brings something special in culture and team character building. I think he has demonstrated a deep concern for his players and his relationships. He possess that "special something" that might cause a great athlete with strong character to want to play football at MSU rather than schools with more resources or tradition.

If Dantonio could do what he did in East Lansing with the recruits he attracts to MSU, imagine what he could do at what others would call an "elite" program...the kind of place that "sells itself"...the kind of place that is on every 5-star recruit's top-5 list? How would coaches at those programs do at MSU? How would Brady Hoke do at MSU? Dantonio is a good coach. He's not perfect. Neither are the coaches at those so called "elite" programs - but they do have a distinct advantage over an MSU coach. I don't think that's a "inferiority complex" (*see below), I think it's being real.

I think I know who the Spartans are and who they aren't. The Spartans have a rich history, but the Spartans aren't Alabama or Ohio State. The Spartans do not have the money of a Texas or the national exposure of a Notre Dame. Some say MSU doesn't sell as much gear as Ann Arbor and that is supposed to mean something, I guess. MSU's media market population base within 30-miles of their stadium certainly can't match the population near Ann Arbor. I think Mark Danonio is "real" about this stuff too and that is why he used a particular phrase in his first speech to the students prior to his first season. He said, "We will measure-up." Now that's a "measured" declaration. I think he was saying something to the effect of, "Hey, we aren't going to become 'them'. I am not going to guarantee victory every year, but we will compete with the team down the road and every other team in the conference. We will be a tough date on anyone's schedule."

MSU has increasingly "measured up" during the Dantonio years. So much so, that what was once expected is longer accepted.

In recent weeks though, I have become aware of what may be some flaws in Mark Dantonio's make-up or program. While others viewed Danonio as stubborn, I interpreted that same behavior as patience. I saw him collecting data - letting things play out. Not being too quick to make a knee jerk decision until all variables and unintended consequences have been considered and handled. Lately, with some influence from SpartanMan82, I could see that a third possibility may be true. Maybe he is indecisive. Maybe he balanced this weakness in the past by having good, trusted people around him and in the right positions on his staff, who he could trust to be decisive.

After seeing the results of the Iowa game, I think Dantonio is likely to be a little of all three traits - stubborn, patient, and indecisive. I am still concerned that the loss of Dan Enos (head coach at CMU), Don Treadwell (head coach at Miami of Ohio) and Dan Roushar (who was a really good O-line coach on this staff before sitting in the wrong chair as OC before leaving for the NFL) has left his staff as sub-par. I am concerned that Dantonio does not fully trust his new staff (or at least in the positions they each are in) and it accentuates his indecisiveness. I think he is used to trusting the decisiveness of those coaches around him. They are not there anymore or not in the same role and it hasn't been working for over 13 months. Maybe the results of Iowa the game is a sign Dantonio is getting that straightened out. I do think Dantonio is the kind of guy who knows himself and therefore it would make sense he would take steps to fix this problem.

As the 2013 MSU football season has unfolded, it has exposed or maybe confirmed various possible "concerns" or "flaws" within the program. That "hot-list" is different for each of us with an opinion.

Before the Iowa game, I stated that if this offensive ineptness continues through the 2013 season, Dantonio will need to help his friends on his offensive staff find new jobs. It would indicate they can't cut it.

After the Iowa game, I still think our offensive staff is sub-par, but I was relieved that they found a way to make progress. It is not a top-25 staff and it should be. I doubt they are a top-50 staff and they used to be. I think they may have down graded rather than improved when Dantonio had to fill holes in the staff. They seem to throw plays out there to see it if they work instead of being a part of a bigger plan. SM82 pointed out that trick plays work best when they are first set up by a similar looking play that is not a trick play. This staff does not seem to do that.

Before the game, I wondered what Jim Bollman really did on this staff. After the game, I'm not sure he does much, other than help with game planning and what has that netted? I sure can't see him winning the heart of a hip high school superstar athlete. The game seems to move faster than he can think, or at least faster than he talks - if you have ever watched him being interviewed.

Before the game, I wasn't sure where the Spartans would find a seventh win in 2013. After the game, I have hope that the seventh win could come BEFORE the November 2 game against Ann Arbor.

Before the Iowa game, I really thought Dantonio robbed Cook, Maxwell, the team and the fans with that last drive switch at Notre Dame from Cook to a cold Maxwell. I felt like it was a decision with almost no chance of an up-side and huge, possibly devastating negative consequences. After the Iowa game, I realized how good Dantonio is at damage control and nurturing his relationships with his players and team as a whole. He has what I call a "positive emotional bank account" with his team. That allowed him to take a big withdrawal and still not be overdrawn. Could it have made Cook better vs. Iowa?

Before the Iowa game, commentators kept saying MSU needs better play from the QB position. Before during and after the game, I keep saying MSU needs better play from all the other positions, including the coaches in the booth calling plays and game planning - then, the QB will look good.

Before the game, the Spartans defense was thought to be good. After the game, the Spartans defense is KNOWN to be good. (Mike Sadler, the Spartans' punter had more rushing yards in one play than the entire Iowa Hawkeyes team all game long.)

How good is MSU's defense, and can it play this well for an entire season?

Could it be that some fans will have to take back their utterance of the old phrase, "At least it's almost basketball season?"

Could it be that Dantonio is navigating his way through the schedule knowing his offensive staff is not what he had hoped so he is adapting to that - and maybe, just maybe, he is actually doing better than it appears (albeit, a little late)?

Could it be that MSU enters the game vs. chUMps at 7-1 and with a win, sets up HUGE away games at Lincoln and Evanston?

What is the over/under for MSU defensive interference calls in the Indiana game?

*A side note on the "Spartans inferiority complex" myth: This concept is spread by chUMps and perpetuated by members of the media who elect not to actually think it through. If you look at the behavior of the the University of Michigan Athletic Director, some of the athletic coaches, several of the players and many fans who comment on media message boards and talk radio, you can hear a tone of self-absorbed arrogance and condescending elitism ("OHIO", "Little Brother", "Because we are Michigan", sky writing stupidity, and countless other examples). In short, what you hear is a "SUPERIORITY COMPLEX" [phrase coined by SpartanMan82]. Since the local sports world revolves around U of M and the universe is viewed from a U of M perspective, it appears to those wearing the superiority goggles that everyone else is inferior - including anyone associated with MSU in any way. Naturally, their local rival, the Spartans, whose fans are pretty realistic about who they are (and are often accused of being delusional in their optimism) are tagged with the label of having an "inferiority complex". It's relative to their superiority, you see? The media then, fails to think deeply enough about it and parrots the phrase openly and the MSU inferiority complex becomes a false "truth" in time and it hides the actual truth - many associated with U of M, including fans, suffer from a superiority complex. In fact, this blog is not rooted in a sense of inferiority, rather, it's about the Spartans and about the TRUTH related to UM.

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  1. We are famililar with the trama and drama associated with a QB transition, especially one where the heir apparent was not properly groomed in the prior season. Brian Hoyer was the last successful QB transition at MSU and only 7 QBs in the past 40 seasons had successful transitions. Hoyer got roughly 1/3 of the snaps in the prior season and played in just about every game.

    We are also aware that transition drama and trama come with other positions: RB, TE, WR, OL, DL, DB, CB, S, K, P, R, LS, and any I might have forgotten to list.

    So, the real question is, why are there no thoughts about a coach transition? Certainly when any of us change jobs, there is a transition where we have to come up a learning curve until we are proficient at our new position/job. Why is that not considered a valid perspective with coaches?

    Just wondering if those dual OCs are really bad or just not up to speed, yet.

  2. I just corrected several typing errors, missing words other stuff that improves the readability of the post. Sorry about that.

    76 - I get what you are saying. I'm talking today. Can he trust this staff like he did the old one? If Dantonio does have a little indecisive trait in him, could this staff be exacerbating the problem after he was used to relying on that core group he brought from Cincinnati? Would a MAC school hire Jim Bollman or Jim Warner to be their OC? How about any other BCS level program? There is one primary reason why they in those roles - their relationship to Mark Dantonio. I am just asking, could that be hurting the program? What would a high caliber offensive recruit who has been watching our offense for 18 games be thinking? Could MSU and Mark Dantonio have attracted a higher caliber offensive guru? Would that have worked here? With Dantonio? I don't know. I am exploring, observing and opening a discussion. Maybe MD can turn it into something and we can all dance in the streets. I just think it's new territory for him and he has been trying to find his way in it. Maybe he turns it into one of his best ever coaching jobs - note the third in the questions list in the post.

    1. Can he trust his staff, today, like he has in the past? Probably not. They are still, IMO, a little green and more prone to making poor decisions. Can he trust them? Yes, just not as much as those he had on staff for 5 years (or pick a number).

      To counter, we do not know the ceiling on these gentlemen so the question of replacing them, potentially,, with a higher caliber candidate(s) is something we fans can debate until we are green in the face.

      What will recruits do? Each according to his nature. Some might go where the OC is celebrated. Some might go just because of what the school offers. Some migh go because they know other kids on the roster. There are a nundred reasons to choose and each recruit sees it a little bit differently than any of the others. There is no pat answer.

    2. There was a noticable shift in the play book for the Iowa game. That move from the traditional Dantonio game plan indicates some level of trust in the judgement of the OCs.

      And I liked the changes to the game plan. It was a breath of fresh air for me.

  3. R2G,

    I understand your points. I am just trying to see it from a different point of view. MSU under Coach Dantonio is famous for taking the less celebrated recruits and developing them into first rate players. Tie that is with the transition point I made. It is possible that 5 games, plus spring and fall camps is not sufficient for the new coaches (or coaches in new positions) to fully grasp the "playbook" as it were. It is possible that they will be developed into competent or better assistant coaches given enough time and training, just like they do with the kids.

    Coach Dantonio is in his 10th year. He has brought together a complete staff just once and had very few needs to replace assistants. So, yes, this may be a transition type situation for him as well.

    Your 3rd point states it as "not what he hoped for", which lends itself to a negative interpretation. Another viewpoint is that they are not yet where he needs them to be, but he is sticking by them because they have the potential and just need to be further developed.

    You are observing and opening a discussion. I am contributing to that discussion by presenting alternatives, benefits of the doubt, and analogies to other things related to the program. In short, I am not claiming you are wrong, but I am also not proclaiming you are right. The vote is still out on this and probably will be for the rest of this season and maybe next, too.

  4. Well, it's all fun speculation from our seats. Maybe the shift in the game plan was a directive from Dantonio, who typically lets his coaches do their jobs and will only specify run/pass or an occasional trick play or give his OK to what the coaches decide. Maybe he has decided he can't just leave it in their hands. We will never know. Thanks for contributing MSU-S76! Keep it coming. It's cool. I'm glad it sparked an interest. I look forward to Wednesday's FRONT-BURNER.


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