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November 19, 2008

On jobs, raises, lions' roars and buttercups

It's probably time to address the inevitable future of job openings and Mark Dantonio mentions.

   Dantonio was asked about it at his Tuesday presser, in an interesting way. The questioner speculated that MSU fans aren't as nervous about Dantonio bolting as they've been with past coaches (Perles, Saban), asked if that represents another step for the program, and also why people seem to believe him.
    Dantonio took the time to make it clear that he's "happy and content where I'm at and I just want to continue to focus on the present" and later said: "Maybe they believe me because I speak the truth, so I'll continue to try to do that."
    Of course, every coach says he's happy when such questions pop up. But I really don't think MSU fans have any reason to be worried at all, now or in the foreseeable future. First of all, Perles and Saban were NFL guys with NFL eyes. Dantonio has never been there. Like mentor Jim Tressel, he's a pure college guy. That takes away a lot of jumping possibilities.
    Moreover, he has a top-notch facility, unlike his predecessors. He has a flailing, transitioning Michigan down the road, unlike his predecessors. He has a second-year program with a lot of upside, in a Big Ten that offers upward mobility opportunities. His family liked it in the Lansing area before and now his daughters can go to the same high school for all four years.
    His name has been mentioned loosely as one of possible interest for Tennessee. So let's see. It's a great program, no doubt. But you have the pressure (and NFL mentality) of the SEC. If you want to get to the BCS, you have to get past Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. And it's an entirely different recruiting base.
    I've always thought (just my own speculation) that Dantonio would only consider leaving MSU for the Ohio State job if Tressel left. That doesn't appear to be imminent.
    In the meantime, look for MSU to restructure Dantonio's $1.1 million annual deal in the offseason. I asked AD Mark Hollis about that recently.
    "We won't do anything until the season's over, at least," Hollis said. "He knows I love him."
    Other Tuesday tidbits:
    * The off week seems to have helped MSU's physical condition. Dantonio said (without specifics, as usual) that the team is healthier, with some nagging injuries cleared up. Javon Ringer said he feels much better. Ditto Brandon Long. Otis Wiley said he's "close to being where I was before Notre Dame," and that his knee feels better. Even Brian Hoyer said the time off has him throwing the ball with more zip.
    “Moreso than anything, it’s just that we’re energized,” Long said.
    * Practice was closed, but from the hallway of the football building we could hear the blaring of crowd noise, the Penn State fight song and the cat growl that follows every positive play for the home team at Beaver Stadium.
    “The fewer lion calls you get, the better you’re doing in the game," Hoyer said.
    MSU also jammed some tunes, including "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations (younger readers may recall it from "There's Something About Mary.") Don't ask me to explain how that song relates to this game. Just a snappy tune on a cold afternoon, I guess.
    * Asked if he'll root for Michigan to beat Ohio State (which would put MSU into the Rose Bowl if the Spartans win), Dantonio said he wouldn't, and that the team would be "locked in" by the time that game starts at noon, with no interest in tracking its progress.
    Of the Rose Bowl, he said: "Our time will come for that, whether it’s this year or another year, our time will come for that."
    Later, asked the same thing on the Big Ten teleconference, Dantonio said: "I'm going to focus on our task at hand here and worry about the things we can control. I have too many good friends and too many people that wouldn't let me back into their house to let me do that. So go Bucks."
    That seems to have caused a ripple. It certainly makes me wonder what we have to do to get quotes like that at the press conference, rather than the teleconference.
    * Last week was a recruiting opportunity for the coaching staff. Dantonio said they went to "distant areas to see where we were at with certain players. I think we probably made some headway, but in February we'll find out."

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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