In just five seasons, Mark Dantonio has restored the pride and tradition of Spartan football.
A Zanesville, Ohio, native with Midwest ties, Dantonio has led Michigan State to a school-record five consecutive bowl appearances and back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in program history. The Spartans have won 24 Big Ten games the past four seasons, the most of any team in the conference, and claimed a share of the Big Ten Championship in 2010.
Dantonio has 32 years of collegiate coaching experience and coached in his 16th bowl game in the 2012 Outback Bowl as the Spartans defeated No. 18 Georgia in triple overtime, 33-30. It marked Dantonio’s third New Year’s Day game as a head coach, as he also guided MSU to appearances in the 2009 Capital One Bowl against Georgia and the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Alabama.
Dantonio owns a 44-22 record (.667) at Michigan State, which marks the most wins by a Spartan head coach in his first five seasons. He has won at least nine games in a season three times (9 in 2008, school-record 11 in 2010, school-record 11 in 2011), tying him with the most seasons of at least nine wins of any coach in program history; he is also the first Spartan coach to accomplish that feat within his first five years.
MSU has won 22 of its last 27 games, dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season; the 22 wins over the last two seasons are the highest two-year total in school history and ties for seventh most among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams during that same period.
Thanks to its 33-30 triple-overtime victory over Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl, Michigan State (11-3) finished No. 10 in the final USA TODAY Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the final Associated Press Poll. It marked MSU’s third Top 10 finish in the history of the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and its first since 1999 (No. 7 with a 10-2 record). It also marked the third time in the last four years that MSU has appeared in the final polls, as the Spartans ranked No. 24 (both polls; 9-4 record) at the conclusion of the 2008 season and No. 14 (both polls; 11-2 record) in 2010.
In addition, the Spartans have been ranked in the USA TODAY Poll for 29 straight weeks, the longest streak for the program since the national newspaper began administering the poll in 1991. MSU also has been ranked in the Bowl Championship Series standings for a school-record 16 consecutive weeks.
Michigan State’s 11 wins in 2011 tied the school single-season record, as the Spartans became bowl eligible for a school-record fifth consecutive year. MSU won the Big Ten Legends Division title outright with a 7-1 conference record, improving to a league-best 14-2 in Big Ten play the past two seasons. The Spartans came up just short of their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988, falling to Wisconsin, 42-39, in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State defeated five bowl-bound teams, including a victory over the Badgers earlier in the season on Oct. 22 in Spartan Stadium, 37-31, on a last-second, 44-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol. MSU also beat No. 11 Michigan for the fourth-straight year on Oct. 15 in Spartan Stadium, 28-14, a first for the program since 1959-62. Other landmark victories included a 10-7 win at Ohio State on Oct. 1, MSU’s first win in Ohio Stadium since 1998, and a 37-21 victory at Iowa on Nov. 12, the Spartans’ first triumph in Kinnick Stadium since 1989.
The Spartans claimed the Legends Division outright with a 31-17 victory at Northwestern on Nov. 26 and closed the regular season with a 4-0 record in November. Under Dantonio, MSU has compiled a 13-3 record in the month of November, including seven straight wins. Michigan State also went a perfect 7-0 at home for the second straight year, posting back-to-back perfect home seasons for the first time since 1955-56, and extended its home winning streak to 14 games.
Known as one of the top defensive minds in the country, Dantonio and his staff assembled the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten in 2011, as the Spartans led the conference in rushing defense (100.5 yards per game), total defense (277.4 ypg.), interceptions (16) and third-down defense (.337). In addition, the Spartans ranked among the NCAA FBS Top 20 in seven statistical categories, including sixth in total defense, seventh in sacks (3.1 pg), ninth in rushing defense, 10th in scoring defense (18.7 ppg.), 11th in pass defense (176.9 ypg.), 14th in tackles for loss (7.5 pg.) and 18th in pass efficiency defense (113.3 rating).
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver B.J. Cunningham re-wrote the Michigan State record book. Cousins, the winningest quarterback in school history with 27 victories as a starter, finished his career as MSU’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (66), passing yards (9,131), completions (696), passing efficiency (146.1 rating), 200-yard passing games (26) and total offense (9,004 yards). He also set a single-season MSU record with 25 passing TDs in 2011. Cousins’ favorite target was Cunningham, who left East Lansing as Michigan State’s career leader in both receptions (218) and receiving yards (3,316). In his senior year, Cunningham tied a school record with 79 receptions and posted eight 100-yard receiving games, the most in an MSU single-season.
The Spartans were rewarded for their excellent season as 19 players received All-Big Ten recognition on the first team, second team or honorable mention, including a school-record 11 on defense. The Spartans had four first-team All-Big Ten selections: cornerback Johnny Adams (coaches), offensive guard Joel Foreman (coaches and media), safety Trenton Robinson (media) and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy (coaches and media).
Worthy also earned consensus first-team All-America honors, marking the fourth-straight year Michigan State has had a consensus first-team All-American (Javon Ringer: 2008; Greg Jones: 2009, 2010), which is a school record.
From his first day on the job, Dantonio has pledged to support student-athletes as they pursue excellence, both in the classroom and on the playing field. In his first five seasons, 67 players have earned their undergraduate degrees. In addition, his players have earned Academic All-Big Ten honors 56 times, including 2009 Academic All-American Blair White (first team) and 2011 Academic All-American Mike Sadler (second team).
Dantonio, who led Michigan State to a school-record 11 wins in 2010 and a share of its first Big Ten Championship since 1990, was named the Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year, as selected by the conference’s media panel. A finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant, Eddie Robinson and Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year Awards, Dantonio helped manage the third-biggest turnaround among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams during the regular season, as the Spartans improved from 6-7 a year ago to 11-1 in 2010.
The 55-year-old Dantonio became the fifth coach in MSU history to earn Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, joining Denny Stolz (1974), Darryl Rogers (1978), George Perles (1987) and John L. Smith (2003). He was also named the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Region 3 Coach of the Year, and earned National Coach of the Year honors from CBSSports.com, Scout.com and Rivals.com.
Thanks to its 28-22 victory at Penn State in the regular-season finale, Michigan State recorded its first win in State College since 1965 and finished in a tie with Wisconsin for the 2010 Big Ten Championship. With successive wins over Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State to close out the regular season, the Spartans posted a perfect 3-0 record in November for the first time since 1999. MSU also dealt Wisconsin its only loss of the 2010 regular season, 34-24, in the Big Ten opener. The Spartans finished the season ranked No. 14 in both The Associated Press and USA TODAY/Coaches’ Polls, giving MSU its highest finish in the final polls since 1999. It also marked MSU’s second finish in the Top 25 in the past three years (No. 24 in 2008).
A total of 16 Spartans received All-Big Ten recognition on the first team, second team or honorable mention, including senior linebacker Greg Jones, senior punter Aaron Bates, sophomore running back Edwin Baker and sophomore placekicker Dan Conroy, who each earned All-Big Ten first-team honors from the media. One of the top linebackers in school history, Jones was named a first-team consensus All-American for the second straight season, becoming only the third Spartan to accomplish the feat. He also became just the seventh player in program history to receive first-team All-Big Ten honors three times. Jones (New York Giants) and cornerback Chris L. Rucker (Indianapolis Colts) were selected in the sixth round of the 2011 National Football League Draft.
Michigan State once again featured one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the Big Ten in 2010. MSU’s offense ranked among the team single-season records for points (fourth with 383), passing yards (fifth 3,073 yards) and total yards (seventh with 5,051 yards). The Spartans scored at least 30 points in nine games, including the first six in a row, both of which are school records.
The Spartans made significant strides defensively, fueling the team’s remarkable turnaround. The biggest difference was takeaways – after forcing just 14 all of last season, MSU totaled 24 in 2010. The Spartans recorded 17 interceptions, its highest total since 2004, which ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 23rd in the nation. Michigan State’s +0.4 turnover margin was tied for 31st in the FBS.
Riding the momentum generated by his first four seasons, Dantonio and his coaching staff have put together three consecutive recruiting classes in 2009-11 that analysts rank among the nation’s Top 25.
Led by All-America linebacker Greg Jones and one of the most explosive offenses in the Big Ten, the Spartans earned their third consecutive bowl bid in 2009.
A consensus first-team All-American, Jones became the first Spartan to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year accolades after recording 154 tackles, finishing first in the conference and third nationally. He also led the team and ranked among the national leaders in tackles for loss (14 for 69 yards) and sacks (9 for 53 yards). Jones was rated the No. 1 linebacker in the nation by CollegeFootballNews.com and earned the Linebacker Trophy (Linebacker of the Year) by the College Football Performance Awards.
In addition, defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was named a Freshman All-American, marking the third straight year a Spartan has landed on a Freshman All-America Team.
Cornerback Jeremy Ware continued the trend of draft picks under Dantonio, as he was chosen by the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Overall, seven Spartans have been drafted in the Dantonio era, including Devin Thomas (2007 second round to Washington), Kellen Davis (2007 fifth round to Chicago), Ervin Baldwin (2007 seventh round to Chicago) and Javon Ringer (2008 fifth round to Tennessee).
Offensively, Michigan State featured the No. 2 passing attack in the Big Ten, averaging nearly 270 yards per game. The Spartans also finished second in the league in scoring (29.7 points per game) and third in total offense (406.2 ypg.).
MSU established a school record with 28 touchdown passes in 2009, and the 3,502 passing yards ranked second in the school record book. Sophomore quarterback Kirk Cousins, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the media, finished the regular season ranked among the Top 10 Spartan single-season leaders in passing yards (2,680 – fourth), pass completions (198 – sixth) and touchdown passes (19 – tied for seventh).
The Spartan passing game was built around wide receiver Blair White, who was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches while recording career highs in receptions (70), TD catches (9) and receiving yards (990), all of which rank among MSU’s Top 10 single-season leaders.
Fifth-year center Joel Nitchman earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and five other Spartans received All-Big Ten honorable mention.
MSU’s special teams featured the school’s all-time leading kicker in Brett Swenson, who scored 377 career points. A first-team All-Big Ten selection and Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Swenson also became MSU’s career leader in field goals (71 made) and extra points (164 made) during the 2009 season. He closed out his career ranked among the Big Ten’s all-time leaders in kick scoring (second), field goals (tied for third), total points (fourth) and extra points (sixth).
One of 15 semifinalists for the George Munger Coach of the Year Award, Dantonio had a breakthrough season in 2008. Under his leadership, the Spartans went 9-3 in the regular season and compiled a 6-2 record in the Big Ten, the best league mark for the program since 1999. It also marked just the third time since 1966 and 10th overall that Michigan State had won at least nine games in a season. The Spartans were rewarded with a berth in the 2009 Capital One Bowl against Georgia on New Year’s Day.
Three Michigan State players were named first-team All-Big Ten by the league’s head coaches: senior running back Javon Ringer, senior safety Otis Wiley and sophomore linebacker Greg Jones. The three first-team all-conference selections were the most for the Spartans since five players received first-team honors in 1999. A total of 15 Spartans received All-Big Ten recognition on the first team, second team or honorable mention.
Ringer became MSU’s first consensus All-American since 2004, earning first-team accolades from Walter Camp and the Associated Press. The Doak Walker Award finalist had one of the finest seasons in Spartan history, scoring a school-record 22 touchdowns and rushing for 1,637 yards, which ranked second in the school record books. Ringer was selected by the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
In his first season as head coach at Michigan State, Dantonio sparked a three-game turnaround as the Spartans finished the 2007 regular season with a 7-5 record, securing the program’s first bowl bid in four years with a berth against Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Dantonio became just the third first-year coach in Michigan State history to earn a postseason bowl bid, joining Saban (1995 Independence Bowl vs. LSU) and John L. Smith (2003 Alamo Bowl vs. Nebraska).
Michigan State (7-6 overall) produced seven victories despite playing one of the nation’s most demanding schedules, as the Spartans’ 2007 opponents had a combined record of 75-57 (.568) during the regular season. The Spartans went 4-3 in games played against bowl-bound teams in 2007. Michigan State lost six games by a combined total of 31 points, including two in overtime (Northwestern and Iowa). All six games were decided by seven points or less.
Michigan State finished the year strong, winning its final two games of the regular season for the first time since 1999 with victories at Purdue and over Penn State, both bowl-bound teams. Dantonio became the first coach in Spartan history to begin his initial season 4-0, as Michigan State opened the 2007 campaign with wins over UAB, Bowling Green, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. With the 31-14 victory over the Irish, the Spartans became the first opponent to win six-straight games in the 77-year history of Notre Dame Stadium.
In 2007, Michigan State featured one of the Big Ten’s most prolific offensive attacks. The Spartans ranked second in the conference in scoring offense (33.1 points per game), third in rushing offense (198.2 yards per game) and fourth in total offense (416.8 ypg.). Michigan State also was listed among the NCAA’s top 30 in rushing offense (No. 25) and scoring offense (No. 29). The Spartans scored a school single-season record 430 points and produced top 10 single-season totals in six other offensive categories, including total yards (No. 3: 5,418), first downs (No. 4: 266), passing yards (No. 5: 2,842), total yards per game (No. 6: 416.8) and scoring average (No. 6: 33.1 ppg.).
Michigan State also displayed dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the football in 2007. The Spartans ranked fourth in the Big Ten and No. 30 nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 125.9 ypg. Michigan State held four opponents under 50 yards rushing (UAB, Bowling Green, Indiana and Boston College). After finishing eighth in the Big Ten and No. 88 nationally in total defense in 2006, the Spartans improved to fourth in the league and No. 32 in the NCAA, allowing 345.5 ypg. After finishing near the bottom of the conference in tackles for loss (ninth) and sacks (10th) in 2006, Michigan State vaulted to third in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (7.69 per game) and fourth in sacks (3.08).
Jonal Saint-Dic, one of eight finalists for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, earned first-team All-Big Ten and second-team Walter Camp All-America honors in 2007. Saint-Dic ranked fourth in the Big Ten in sacks (0.83 per game) and ninth in tackles for loss (1.21) while setting the conference single-season record with eight forced fumbles. Three other Spartans garnered second-team All-Big Ten honors: Ringer (coaches and media), Thomas (coaches and media) and offensive tackle Pete Clifford (media).
Jones, a consensus Freshman All-American, became the first true freshman to lead the Spartans in tackles (78 in 2007) since Dan Bass (111 stops) in 1976.
Dantonio, who served as head coach at Cincinnati for three seasons prior to his return to East Lansing, became Michigan State University’s 24th head football coach on Nov. 27, 2006. He previously spent six years as an assistant coach at Michigan State from 1995-2000. In eight seasons as a head coach, Dantonio has collected a 61-39 record (.610), including seven bowl invitations.
Dantonio established himself as one of the nation’s up-and-coming coaches during his three-year tenure at Cincinnati, where he compiled an 18-17 overall record and led the program in its transition from Conference USA to the BIG EAST Conference.
In 2006, Dantonio led the Bearcats to a 7-5 overall record and a 4-3 BIG EAST mark, making Cincinnati bowl eligible for the second time in three years. Dantonio accomplished the feat against the second-toughest schedule in the country, as UC’s opponents compiled a 69-42 record. His Bearcats upset then-No. 7 Rutgers, 30-11, on Nov. 18, handing the Scarlet Knights their first loss of the season and marking the highest-ranked opponent ever defeated by UC.
Highly respected as one of the top defensive coaches in the country, Dantonio’s Bearcats finished the 2006 regular season ranked among the NCAA leaders in six statistical categories: No. 21 in tackles for loss (6.8 per game), No. 23 in pass efficiency defense (109.3 rating), No. 27 in rushing defense (107.5 ypg.), No. 31 in total defense (304.3 ypg.), No. 34 in scoring defense (19.3 ppg.) and No. 34 in sacks (2.4 per game). UC held seven of its 12 regular-season opponents to less than 100 yards rushing, highlighted by performances of 36 yards each in back-to-back games against Miami-Ohio and Akron. In the win over Rutgers, Cincinnati held the nation’s No. 15 rushing offense to a season-low 50 yards on the ground, and limited the NCAA’s No. 3 rusher, Ray Rice, to a season-low 54 yards. Defensive end Trevor Anderson ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in tackles for loss (No. 5 at 1.13 per game) and sacks (No. 6 at 0.5 per game).
Six Bearcats earned All-BIG EAST honors in 2006, including three first-team selections: defensive tackle Terrill Byrd, linebacker Kevin McCullough and free safety Dominic Ross. Three UC players received second-team all-conference honors, including offensive guard Trevor Canfield, tight end Brent Celek and cornerback Mike Mickens. Celek, who set UC career records for receptions, receiving yards and TDs by a tight end, was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
In 2005, Dantonio brought together one of the nation’s youngest teams, with the Bearcats starting as many as five first-year freshmen on defense and posted a competitive 4-7 record in the program’s first season in the BIG EAST.
In 2004, he became the first head coach in 23 years to direct a team to a winning season in his first year at UC. Dantonio also became only the second head coach in Cincinnati history (along with Sid Gillman) to take the Bearcats to a bowl game in his first season. The Bearcats’ went 7-5 in 2004, including a 5-3 mark in Conference USA to finish second in the league standings, and defeated Marshall (32-14) in the Fort Worth Bowl.
Cincinnati led C-USA and ranked No. 26 in the NCAA in pass defense, allowing 194.2 yards per game. The Bearcats also ranked second in C-USA in total defense (341.3 ypg.) and third in both scoring defense (26.7 ppg.) and pass efficiency defense (121.5). Offensively, quarterback Gino Guidugli ranked 15th in the country in passing efficiency (146.5) and directed the Bearcats to the 30th-ranked offense in the nation (405.6 ypg). Three players were chosen in the 2005 NFL Draft (defensive end Trent Cole, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and cornerback Daven Holly).
In his three seasons at Cincinnati, 21 of Dantonio’s players earned All-BIG EAST honors and 40 received academic all-conference recognition. In back-to-back years (2006-07), Cincinnati’s program was presented the American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award for attaining a graduation rate of at least 70 percent for its student-athletes.
Prior to his appointment at Cincinnati, Dantonio served as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State for three seasons, where his defensive unit helped the Buckeyes to a combined record of 32-6.
In 2003, Ohio State’s defense was the second toughest against the run, allowing 62.3 yards per game, and was ranked No. 10 in total defense (296.9 ypg.) and No. 16 in scoring defense (17.6 ppg.). Those efforts helped the Buckeyes post an 11-2 record and finish No. 4 in the final polls.
Dantonio assembled the defense which led Ohio State to the 2002 National Championship, as the Buckeyes ranked second in the NCAA in scoring defense (13.1 ppg) and third in rushing defense (77.7 ypg.). Six Buckeye defenders were named first-team All-Big Ten during his tenure and 13 were drafted by the pros, including a pair of first-round selections in 2004 (defensive end Will Smith and cornerback Chris Gamble).
Dantonio is quite familiar with East Lansing, as he spent six years (1995-2000) as Michigan State’s secondary coach, including five seasons under Saban and one under Bobby Williams. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2000. During his six-year tenure as an assistant, the Spartans compiled a 39-30-1 record.
Under his supervision, the Spartan secondary ranked among the NCAA leaders in pass efficiency defense three of his last four years, finishing No. 10 (101.6) in 1998, No. 16 (103.9) in 1997 and No. 22 (104.5) in 2000. In his last season as secondary coach, the Spartans only allowed 164.1 yards a game through the air, ranking seventh in the country in 2000.
Dantonio contributed to Michigan State’s successful 1999 season, during which the Spartans went 10-2, won the Florida Citrus Bowl, led the Big Ten in total defense and ranked No. 7 in the final polls. He tutored cornerback Amp Campbell, who earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press.
Dantonio came to Michigan State following four seasons under Glen Mason at Kansas (1991-94) where he coached the defensive secondary. In 1992, the Jayhawks produced an 8-4 record and defeated BYU, 23-20, in the Aloha Bowl.
Dantonio previously spent five years at Youngstown State under Tressel, helping the Penguins to three trips to the NCAA I-AA playoffs. While serving as defensive coordinator in 1990, Youngstown State posted a perfect 11-0 regular-season record and ranked second nationally.
His coaching credits also including stops at Akron (defensive secondary, 1985), Ohio State (graduate assistant, 1983-84), Butler (Kan.) Junior College (defensive coordinator, 1982), Purdue (graduate assistant, 1981) and Ohio University (graduate assistant, 1980).
Dantonio earned three letters as a defensive back for Coach Jim Carlen at South Carolina (1976-78). He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from South Carolina in 1979. Dantonio later earned a master’s degree in education from Ohio U. in 1980.
He picked up all-state and all-league honors as a prep football player at Zanesville (Ohio) High School and was selected to play in the Ohio North-South All-Star Game.
In their first two years as honorary co-chairs, Dantonio and his wife Becky have helped raise $1.52 million for the Children’s Miracle Network at Sparrow Children’s Center.
THE DANTONIO FILE
Born Mark Dantonio in El Paso, Texas, on March 9, 1956.
PREVIOUS COACHING EXPERIENCE: College – Graduate assistant at Ohio U. (1980); graduate assistant at Purdue (1981); defensive coordinator at Butler (Kan.) Junior College (1982); graduate assistant at Ohio State (1983-84); defensive secondary coach at Akron (1985); defensive secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Youngstown State (1986-90); defensive secondary coach at Kansas (1991-94); defensive secondary coach (1995-2000) and associate head coach (2000) at Michigan State; defensive coordinator at Ohio State (2001-03); head coach at Cincinnati (2004-06).
62-39 (.614) in eight years as a college head coach; 18-17 in three years at Cincinnati (2004-06); 44-22 (.667) in five seasons at Michigan State (2007-).
Bachelor’s degree in education from South Carolina in 1979; master’s degree in education from Ohio U. in 1980.
College – Three-year letterman as a defensive back at South Carolina (1976-78).