Dantonio is Michigan State Destination Man
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Dantonio is Michigan State Destination Man

Coach that revived Spartans' programs says East Lansing is his last stop

This time a year ago Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio's name was mentioned as a candidate for the vacant Texas job, but Dantonio was quick to squash the rumors.

"I see Michigan State as a destination, not a stop"

said the man who has resided in East Lansing 14 total seasons with the first six as an assistant from 1995 to 2000.

Apparently, Dantonio's answers are worth something; people take him for his word. His name is not popping up again this year as a candidate for jobs -- unlike other coaches who are annually mentioned (hint: a former Michigan State, LSU and Miami Dolphins head coach who is now dressed in Alabama Crimson after he said he wasn't a candidate for the Alabama job).

The only questions Dantonio fielded when he was featured on ESPN last week at the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame dinner from the Waldorf-Astoria in New York were on his No. 8-ranked Spartans (10-2) facing No. 5 Baylor (11-1) New Year's Day in the Cotton Bowl.

Dantonio, 58, is big on completing circles -- to use the words of his late father. When Justin Dantonio died on the eve of the 2011 season, his son that leads a 100-man roster of young athletes talked about life lessons he learned from his dad. Example: "My dad always told me to complete my circles, finish the task."

Those were words the Michigan State coach has lived by as he climbed the ladder from successful assistant until he moved up to defensive coordinator on Ohio State's 2002 national championship team. Next was the head coach at Cincinnati and finally the head coach at Michigan State. With the Spartans, he has a .705 winning percentage (74-31) in eight seasons and the Big Ten's only three-game bowl winning streak (Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings and Rose).

Funny how so many successful people can quote from their youth words of their father or mother that rang true later in life.

One circle Dantonio completed in the 2013 season was Michigan State's return to college football's hierarchy as a Big Ten champion, Rose Bowl winner and Top 10 program. The Spartans finished the 2013 season ranked No. 3 in the nation in the Associated Press writers' poll and USA Today coaches' poll behind BCS finalists Florida State and Auburn.

The Spartans followed up 2013 with a 10-2 season, suffering their only losses two of the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoffs -- No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. If Michigan State had beaten Ohio State on Nov. 8 at the Spartan Stadium, Dantonio's team likely would have climbed to the No. 4 berth that went to Ohio State.

Michigan State was a destination school when Biggie Munn built a national power and then retired to the athletic director's chair following the 1953 season. He promoted assistant coach Duffy Daugherty to head coach and he stayed 19 years before he retired a Spartan -- resisting overtures from Notre Dame in 1963 and Texas A&M in 1958.

Dantoino's 2014 leadership also is notable for Michigan State not falling backward as it did in 1988 following the 1987's season Rose Bowl victory under George Perles.

Michigan State opened 1988 with a loss at home to Rutgers --Rutgers!-- en route to a 6-5-1 finish. It was the beginning of the end for Perles, who let recruiting and coaching slip as he leveraged his Rose Bowl success with NFL job offers in a power play to be named athletic director. Dantonio continues to assemble strong recruiting classes.

Dantonio is still drawing that circle. The next phase of the arc is a talented and deep roster throughout the offense and defense.

Rose Bowl MVP Connor Cook is now mentioned as a possible first-round draft pick -- particularly if he returns for his senior season. He could also be a leading Heisman Trophy candidate if he returns.

And there is quarterback talent waiting in the wings. Damion Terry will be a redshirt sophomore in 2015. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder has shown plenty of flashes in practice, the 2014 spring game and in his limited playing time this season. Brian Lewerke is a Rivals 4-star quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class. He was able to consider the nation from his home in Phoenix and chose the Spartans for the chance to succeed in a pro-style offense.

That sparks the imagination as to what creativity the Spartans will continue to add to their offense with the talent level rising throughout the roster.

The Spartans didn't have such balance and experience with slow starts to the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons following the 2010 breakthrough season.

There was no slow start in 2014 with a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State and the Spartans led Oregon on Sept. 6 before fading in the second half.

Former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is wrapping up his third season with the Washington Redskins, served as an analyst for Big Ten Network's broadcast of the 2014 spring game and liked the stability he saw.

"Looking over the roster and doing my homework to cover this game, I feel like this is as stable of a team that they've had in all my years of being around the program," said Cousins, who guided the Spartans to a share of the 2010 Big Ten title and the 2011 Big Ten Legends Division crown. "There just aren't that many question marks and I think that's exciting. The bar has been set very high with the success last season. On paper right now, it seems like they have what they need to be able to continue the high standard."

Mark Dantonio is Michigan State's 10th head coach since the school joined the Big Ten in the 1953 season, but he is only the Spartans' third Destination Man.

Move over Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty.

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

Purchase Raye of Light from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com or from August Publishing.

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