Is Mark Dantonio Michigan State’s version of Bo Schembechler?

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) throws a pass as Rutgers defensive lineman Elorm Lumor (7) applies pressure during the Spartans’ 40-7 win Saturday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) throws a pass as Rutgers defensive lineman Elorm Lumor (7) applies pressure during the Spartans’ 40-7 win Saturday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

After Michigan State University completed its dramatic turnaround season with a 40-7 rout of Rutgers, head coach Mark Dantonio talked to reporters about “hitting the restart button.”

After all, on top of losing 23 seniors from its catastrophic-looking 3-9 2016 season, MSU also found itself without 19 other players before the end of their eligibility due to a series of unseemly incidents well known to the public as well as transfers amid more whispered reasons.

In short, the program was teetering on the brink of collapse. Even the most rabid Spartan fanatics would have laughed at the suggestion that MSU would finish the 2017 regular season 9-3, with wins over Michigan and Penn State, part of what ended up as the 18th-hardest schedule in the country.

It was a monumental coaching achievement for Dantonio, who has molded a rock-solid program in his own image and shown just how much of an aberration that 3-9 nightmare really was.

For me, it begs the comparison to another coach that took a historically successful program that had fallen on hard times and made it into a nationally relevant powerhouse: Michigan’s Bo Schembechler.

Now, I’m pretty sure that most of you reading this are Michigan fans, and the comparison is little short of sacrilege. And I’m guessing that the MSU fans reading this are a sort of uncomfortable with associating the two.

But hear me out. The similarities are kind of spooky.

Both coaches came to their schools having been assistant coaches at Ohio State, and then head coaches of mid-major programs in Ohio (Schembechler at Miami, Dantonio at Cincinnati).

Both coaches were brought in by young, innovative athletic directors widely considered to be the best in the business, Don Canham at Michigan and Mark Hollis at Michigan State.

Both took over teams that had seen success in the past, but was mired in mediocrity. Schembechler took over the Michigan program from Bump Elliott, who stepped down after losing to Ohio State 50-14 in 1968. Elliot posted a 51–42–2 record including a 2–7–1 record against Michigan State and a 3–7 record against OSU, and won one Big Ten title in his 10 years in Ann Arbor.

MSU’s struggles since its last spell of national relevance in the 1960’s are well-known, and Dantonio inherited a train wreck of a program from the massively incompetent John L. Smith, who went 22-26 in four years in charge.

Both coaches created, virtually from scratch, the culture of his program from the echoes of a distant past. Just about everything that a Michigan fan associates with the Wolverines came directly from Schembechler, from the confidence (some would say arrogance…) of winning consistently to phrases such as, “those who stay will become champions,” (which the program has adopted even though Schembechler did not coin it) to his fiery temperament that fans long to see on the sidelines in Ann Arbor.

Similarly, Dantonio’s calm, taciturn demeanor has become associated with Michigan State, and the team’s personality is largely his.

Both coaches also suffered heart attacks associated with big games, Schembechler just before the 1969 Rose Bowl and Dantonio just after the Spartans’ overtime win over Notre Dame in 2010.

On the field, both coaches struggled in bowl games early in their careers. The first seven times Schembechler took Michigan to a bowl game, they lost (although, to be fair, he did have a heart attack right before the first one, so we can understand if the team was a bit preoccupied). He retired with a record of 5-12 in bowl games.

Dantonio lost his first four bowl appearances at MSU, and will go into this Bowl season with a record of 4-5 in bowl games at MSU (and he did win his only appearance in a bowl at Cincinnati).

But the biggest similarity is that both coaches raised expectations, and made winning an integral part of his program. No, Schembechler never had to endure a 3-win season, but it is clear now that 2016 took a perfect storm of misfortune to occur. It is clear because of the winning DNA that Dantonio has brought to East Lansing, as shown by what was expected to be a barely-tolerable rebuilding year but could very well end up as a 10-win campaign.

Michigan State, which will bring back 19 starters in 2018, will be included in the preseason Big Ten title conversation next year, and barring another perfect storm will be for the foreseeable future, because of what Mark Dantonio has built.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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