If there's a college football head coach that gets less respect than Mark Dantonio please point him out for me, because to me there isn't one. He's quickly becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of college football. You know... Getting no respect while winning all the way to the bank.
Seriously, you know it's true. Think about it, DaDntonio is the guy all the insiders (a.k.a. Big Ten coaches) respect, yet the outside world hasn't been let in on his secret yet and they may never truly appreciate just how good he was until he's gone.
He's been very successful as of late, winning 22 games over the past two seasons (each 11 win seasons in case your keeping score) and yet the BCS hasn't come-a-calling. His 2010 MSU team won a share of the Big Ten title, yet it wasn't invited to a BCS bowl thanks to a quirky Big Ten rule in regards to who goes to the Rose Bowl and then was overlooked by the BCS committee again that year in favor of another co-champion in Ohio State.
2011? Well it was a bit more of the same. They managed to go 7-1 in Big Ten play and win their division, setting up a rematch with Wisconsin for the Big Ten conference title, a game that they would lose in the final minute or so. Despite taking down "big brother" Michigan earlier in the season they were once again overlooked by the BCS in favor of that Michigan team in the Sugar Bowl.
Seriously, what does a guy have to do to get a little respect around here?
He's been at the helm of the Spartans program for five seasons now after replacing the ineffective but loquacious John L. Smith. Dantonio has compiled a 44-22 (.667) record in those five seasons with a conference record of 27-13 (.675). That conference record includes one co-championship, a division crown last season, and a third place finish. The only strike against him is his 1-4 record in bowl games.
How about Dantonio on a historic level at Michigan State?
Well he ranks only behind the great Clarence Munn (1947-1953) in terms of winning at Michigan State. Munn had a .846 winning percentage in his tenure at Michigan State, but only competed for one season in the Big Ten, going 5-1 in that final 1953 season and earning a Rose Bowl bid for placing first in the conference.
O.k., congrats that was all the way back in the 1950's, but what about today? Well, let's not forget the man that most consider that "best college football coach on the planet," Nick Saban, spent five seasons in East Lansing before bolting off to the Bayou. So, how did Saban do? He could only muster up a 35-24-1 record, just a .592 winning percentage if you're playing along at home. Saban did fare a bit worse in conference play though, going just 23-16-1 (.589).
Well, that's the so-called best coach in America, right?
Well, he's got nothing on Dantonio who's five year record is far superior overall and inside the Big Ten. In fact since Michigan State joined the conference in the 1953 season, no coach in Michigan State history is better in Big Ten play that what Danotnio has done with his .675 winning percentage.
Let's also remember Saban was coming in on the heels of the great George Perles, who didn't exactly leave the program on shaky ground like what Smith did when Dantonio came aboard in 2007.
The next closest to Dantonio in Big Ten winning percentage is Darryl Rogers who went 19-12-1 in his 4 years at the helm of the Spartans program, good for a .609 winning percentage. I mean, it's not even close folks.
What Dantonio has done is simply make Michigan State into one of the top level teams in the Big Ten. He's guided the best QB in the history of the Spartans in Kirk Cousins and he's increased the level of recruiting at Michigan State to a level never previously seen for the school. He's even turned Spartans Stadium into a place no one wants to come to as an opposing player or coach.
Sure, you can argue that Michigan State doesn't have the storied tradition of schools like Michigan or Ohio State and the like, but that just serves to prove the point. Dantonio has built a formidable football program in his own image (and stealing a bit from the Wisconsin model form the early 90's - from his own mouth) and it's turned into a team other players, coaches, and fans hate playing against. Hell, just ask any Badger fan and they'll tell you just how much they hate, and I mean HATE facing Mark D'Antonio and the Spartans in East Lansing.
I don't know what more proof you need to know that Mark Dantonio deserves to be ranked amongst the best head coaches in America, but if what's been presented isn't enough, try his record against the hated Wolverines. He's won four straight games over their arch-rivals and delivered one of the best quotes ever before going on the winning spree.
"I find a lot of the things they [Michigan] do amusing. They need to check themselves sometimes. But just remember, pride comes before the fall... This game is an important game. So they want to mock us all they want to mock us, I'm telling them: it's not over. So they can print that crap all they want all over their locker room. It's not over. It'll never be over here. It's just starting... I'm going to be a coach here for a long time. It's not over. It's just starting."
In reality, the only question left to be answered is when is the rest of the college football world going to wake up to what the Big Ten coaches, players, and fans alredy know?... Mark Danotnio is one hell of a football coach.