When Mark Dantonio took over as head coach of the Michigan State University football program 3 years ago, no one was more excited and clapping louder than this former athlete and Michigan State graduate. It was easy to understand why.
In my last two seasons of watching the Spartans as a student-athlete, Michigan State players and their coach Duffy Daugherty won both Big Ten and National Championships in 1965 and 1966. After graduating in 1966, it would be 21 long years before George Perles would lead MSU back to some kind of prominence when the Spartans went 9-2-1 and won the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl in 1987.
The arrival of Mark Dantonio, after years of losing to our arch-rival Michigan as well as Ohio State, signaled hope for a struggling program. Dantonio was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship team, and had built a reputation as a winner to be reckoned with.
In his first season, Dantonio went 7-5 and took Michigan State to a bowl game for the first time in 4 years-and all 5 of his losses were by 7 points or less. Last year he continued the march to prominence by improving to 9-4, and going to a second consecutive bowl game.
This year turned into a nightmare before it barely started. In their second game of the season against Central Michigan at home, the Spartans really worked at finding a way to lose, 29-27. The fact that Central Michigan was a mid-major school and would eventually finish the season at 12-2 was irrelevant-it was the way that Michigan State responded to the challenge that was troubling.
MSU then went on the road and lost a close game to another arch-rival Notre Dame, 33-30, and followed that up with another road loss to Wisconsin, 38-30.
The Spartans managed to host and beat arch-rival Michigan 26-20 in overtime, and also beat Illinois and Northwestern to sit at 4-3. Not happy with any success, they immediately lost at home to Iowa and on-the-road at Minnesota and dropped back to 4-5. Mercifully, they then beat Western Michigan and Purdue before being blown out by Penn State, 42-14, and ending up barely bowl eligible at 6-6.
What happened next signaled the trouble ahead for the Michigan State Spartans. A total of 14 Spartan players were suspended from the team pending investigation of a dormitory brawl in November. The players in question did not make it to the Alamo Bowl to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Dubbed the “Distraction Bowl” by the media because of the firing of belligerent coach Mike Leach prior to the game, the Red Raiders nonetheless won, 41-31, leaving Michigan State with a losing record for the season at 6-7.
To say that Michigan State’s 3rd season under Dantonio was a disappointment is not an exaggeration. There is a huge difference between 9-4 in 2008 and 6-7 in 2009. It is not just about the wins and losses-as bad as it is-it is also about the apparent lack of team chemistry, apparent disinterest of some players, and the apparent non-performance of some “hot shot” recruits.
The problem was, as the great college football coach Lou Holtz says, “When all is said and done, more was said than done.”
If anyone wondered what happened to the Michigan State Spartans this year, the telltale signs are evident-14 players suspended for apparently participating in a dormitory brawl. When did Michigan State gain the reputation of being a school that recruits players interested in “thugging” and “mugging” to settle perceived scores?
The story is all too familiar today. Connecticut players won the Papajohns.com Bowl without cornerback Jasper Howard, who was stabbed to death in a fight outside of a school-sponsored dance in October.
Dozens of college football players have been suspended or kicked off their team for violent or criminal behavior this year. Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount sucker-punched a Boise State player at mid-field after the Broncos upset the Ducks 19-8 in the opening game for both teams this year. Other players on other teams are facing charges ranging from robbery to rape.
You have to ask yourself, “What is up with these talented, privileged athletes?” Some of them are gone after their first season because they are too lazy, too undisciplined or too stupid to get passing grades in their classes. Some run around like they are God’s gift to football, “talking smack” and acting like an illiterate person-in some cases they cannot write a complete sentence, and would have trouble communicating with anyone not from where they surfaced. Many times they bring nothing of substance to the area they occupy.
Life is not that complicated to anyone paying attention. By the time athletes even reach the college campus, they should know right from wrong, they should have some basic manners and respect for everyone they come in contact with, and they should have enough restraint to not rob their roommate, rape a girl, or engage in gangland violence.
Yoga taught me “impulse control”, the ability to feel an urge and delay acting on it.
Violent and criminal behavior should not be tolerated under any circumstances. We all are faced with challenges in life. Every one of us suffers failure, rejection and ridicule growing up. Life is not a resting place; it is a testing place. We all face challenges every day of our lives. We either learn how to deal with these challenges or we become victims of them.
What is it with young people today that causes them to solve their problems by going home, getting a gun, and coming back and killing someone because their feelings are hurt, or they faced rejection, or ridicule. Learning to deal with your problems is part of growing up. People who indiscriminately kill other people do not value their own life, and consequently do not value the lives of those they would kill.
The values of respect, tolerance, acceptance, compromise and love among others have to be taught and learned. If there is no one around, then you must observe and learn these values on your own.
The excuse that you are too lazy or too stupid to learn these values on your own is not acceptable if you plan on living on this planet with other people. If you cannot learn how to behave in a civilized society, then we take you out of circulation by locking you up, that is, if you do not get killed by someone else first.
The 14 suspended players at Michigan State-if found guilty as suspected-are immature, lack good judgment, lack character and lack integrity. No one does something as stupid as they apparently did without being more self-centered than other-centered.
Let there be no doubt about the value of having character and integrity. I do not believe you can build a championship team without a substantial dose of both.
And let there be no doubt about how character is developed. Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can gain character from our disappointments. Also understand that adversity does not build character, it only reveals it. In case of the suspended athletes, the perceived adversity revealed their lack of character.
Integrity is what you do in the dark when no one is looking, and this is especially so if you can enjoy personal gain from what you are doing. Integrity is making decisions with right thinking and right motives. You cannot have integrity and be self-centered, full of yourself, greedy, dishonest, jealous, stupid, arcane and bovine like some stupid cow wandering around a field following other stupid cows.
All of which is to say that Mark Dantonio needs to do some serious housecleaning. Dantonio needs to determine who is really willing to work to succeed. Who not just wants to play football but loves the game and needs to play football. Who is a winner willing to meet and conquer challenges head on. And who appreciates the opportunity to wear a Michigan State Spartan uniform.
You cannot win with losers, and there are apparently some losers on the MSU football team that should not to be on the team. If the players that are left cannot help Michigan State take the next step forward, then Dantonio needs to find some players of character who can, and convince them of the value of being a true Spartan.
Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley