While the Nick Saban circus swirls over the head of college football, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio quietly prepares to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The leader of the Spartan's program flies under the radar for another season, as he sits at the very top of the Big Ten. Dantonio is the very definition of an underappreciated coach on the national scale.
Sparty fans love the guy. Those who enjoy hard-nosed, focused football sing his praises. But in a world where flash sells, Dantonio gets passed over time and again when the masses talk about great coaches. In his seventh year at the helm in East Lansing, the coach is still the same guy who wants his team to play great defense, run the ball first and go out to get wins.
During his time at Michigan State, beginning in 2007, Dantonio's put together three double-digit win seasons, only one losing year, a Big Ten Championship, a Big Ten co-Championship, a Legends Division win and, now, a trip to the Rose Bowl. He's just finished his second one-loss regular season at Michigan State and still flies too low for most folks to pick out of a lineup.
The head coach keeps winning, and even financially remains somewhat anonymous in a college football world stacked with superstar coaching names. A look at USA Today's coaching salaries shows that Dantonio is No. 51 for the 2013 season. His $1.96 million number puts him behind the triumphant trio of Charlie Weis, Dave Doeren and Mike London of Kansas, NC State and Virginia, respectively.
Dantonio, along with his defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, has built a defensive machine for the green and white. His team plays a physical and attacking game that does not concede yards to the opposition. In an era that has co-opted the "bend but don't break" defensive mantra to mean, "we only gave up 30, not 40," Dantonio is a throwback.
He's a coach whose team has no interest in bending. In fact, his teams take it as a personal affront when teams pick up yardage. First downs are slaps in the face. Touchdowns are abominations. All of which are a refreshing change in a world where hoping to not give up 40 points seems to be most teams' goal for success.
In previous years, Dantonio would be the norm. Men like him were simply what the profession looked like. Now, in the world of point-a-minute offenses, he is an outlier. He is the oddity because he still subscribes to the ways of Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes and others. He is the minority because he doesn't put every playmaker he can on offense and send a mediocre defense out to hope they get stops.
And, because Dantonio is that sort of anomaly, people don't often acknowledge him or his program's success. He has a one-loss football team riding a nine-game winning streak and people still question just how good the Spartans are compared to other teams.
Dantonio will never be the flashy guy that Gus Malzahn, Kliff Kingsbury or even Kevin Sumlin are in the coaching field. He is a Steady Eddie who has built a solid foundation by simply doing the little things. The coach will never make a splash, but he will get wins, and as those victories pile up, folks will have no choice but to appreciate the success.