When Mark Dantonio took over as head coach of the Michigan State University football program 3 years ago, no one was more excited and cheering louder than this former athlete and Michigan State University graduate. It was easy to understand why.
In my last two seasons of watching the Spartans as a student-athlete, Michigan State players and their coach Duffy Daugherty won both the Big Ten and the National Championship in 1965 and 1966.
The arrival of Mark Dantonio, after years of losing to arch-rivals Michigan and Ohio State, signaled hope for a struggling program. Dantonio was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship team and had built a reputation as a winner to be reckoned with.
In his first season, Dantonio went 7-5 and led Michigan State to a bowl game for the first time in 4 years, with all 5 of his losses being by 7 points or less. Last year he continued the march to prominence by improving to 9-4 and going to a second straight bowl game.
This year turned into a nightmare before it even started. In their second game of the season against Central Michigan at home, the Spartans really worked to find a way to lose, 29-27. The fact that Central Michigan was a middle school and finished the season 12-2 was irrelevant; what was troubling was the way Michigan State responded to the challenge.
MSU then hit the road and lost a close game to arch-rival Notre Dame, 33-30, and followed that up with another road loss to Wisconsin, 38-30.
The Spartans managed to host and beat archrival Michigan 26-20 in overtime, and also beat Illinois and Northwestern to go 4-3. Not content with any success, they immediately lost at home in Iowa and on the road in Minnesota and fell back to 4-5. Fortunately, they then beat Western Michigan and Purdue before being eliminated by Penn State, 42-14, and finished barely eligible to bowl at 6-6.
What happened next signaled trouble ahead for the Michigan State Spartans. A total of 14 Spartan players were suspended from the team while a bedroom fight in November was investigated. The players in question did not make it to the Alamo Bowl to face the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Dubbed the “Distraction Bowl” by the media due to the firing of belligerent coach Mike Leach before the game, the Red Raiders won, 41-31, leaving Michigan State with a losing record for the season at 6-7.
To say that Michigan State’s third season under Dantonio was a disappointment is not an exaggeration. There’s a big difference between 9-4 in 2008 and 6-7 in 2009. It’s not just about the wins and losses, bad as they are, it’s also about the apparent lack of team chemistry, the seeming disinterest of some players and the apparent underachievement of some “top” recruits.
The problem was, as the great college football coach Lou Holtz puts it, “When all is said and done, more was said than done.”
If anyone was wondering what happened to the Michigan State Spartans this year, the telltale signs are obvious: 14 players suspended for apparently engaging in a bedroom brawl. When did Michigan State gain a reputation as a school that recruits players interested in “killing” and “stealing” to settle perceived scores?
The story is all too familiar today. The Connecticut players won the Papajohns.com Bowl without cornerback Jasper Howard, who was stabbed to death in a fight outside a school-sponsored dance in October.
Dozens of college football players have been suspended or kicked from their team for violent or criminal behavior this year. Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in midfield after the Broncos defeated the Ducks 19-8 in the season opener for both teams this year. Other players from other teams face charges ranging from robbery to rape.
You have to ask yourself, “What is it with these talented privileged athletes?” Some of them have left after their first season because they are too lazy, too undisciplined, or too stupid to get passing grades in their classes. Some run around as if they were a godsend for football, “talking nonsense” and acting like an illiterate person; in some cases, they cannot write a complete sentence and would have trouble communicating with anyone other than where they came from. Many times they do not contribute anything substantial to the area they occupy.
Life is not that complicated for anyone who pays attention. By the time athletes arrive on campus, they must know right from wrong, have some basic manners and respect for everyone they come in contact with, and have enough restraint not to rob their roommate, rape a girl, or engage in gang violence.
Yoga taught me “impulse control,” the ability to feel an impulse and delay its action.
Violent and criminal behavior should not be tolerated under any circumstances. We all face challenges in life. Each of us experiences failure, rejection, and ridicule growing up. Life is not a resting place; it is a testing place. We all face challenges every day of our lives. Either we learn to deal with these challenges or we become victims of them.
What is it about young people today that makes them solve their problems by going home, getting a gun, and going back and killing someone because their feelings are hurt, or they face rejection or ridicule? Learning to deal with your problems is part of growing up. People who indiscriminately kill other people do not value their own lives and consequently do not value the lives of those they would kill.
The values of respect, tolerance, acceptance, commitment and love among others have to be taught and learned. If no one is around, you should observe and learn these values on your own.
The excuse that you are too lazy or too stupid to learn these values on your own is not acceptable if you plan to live on this planet with other people. If you can’t learn to behave in a civilized society, then we put you out of business by locking you up, that is, if someone else doesn’t kill you first.
The 14 players suspended at Michigan State, if convicted as suspected, are immature, lacking in good judgment, lacking in character and lacking in integrity. No one does something as stupid as they apparently did without being more self-centered than other-focused.
Let there be no doubt about the value of having character and integrity. I don’t think you can build a championship team without a substantial dose of both.
And let there be no question as to how character develops. Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can gain character from our disappointments. Also understand that adversity does not build character, it only reveals it. In the case of the suspended athletes, the perceived adversity revealed their lack of character.
Integrity is what you do in the dark when no one is looking, and this is especially so if you can enjoy personal gain from what you are doing. Integrity is making decisions with the right thoughts and the right motives. You cannot have integrity and be self-centered, conceited, greedy, dishonest, jealous, stupid, arcane, and bovine like a stupid cow wandering through a field following other stupid cows.
All of which is to say that Mark Dantonio needs to do some serious house cleaning. Dantonio needs to determine who is really willing to work to be successful. That he not only wants to play soccer but he loves the game and needs to play soccer. Who is a winner willing to face and conquer challenges head on. And that he appreciates the opportunity to wear a Michigan State Spartan uniform.
You can’t win with losers, and apparently there are some losers on the MSU football team who shouldn’t be on the team. If the players that remain can’t help Michigan State take the next step forward, then Dantonio needs to find some character players who can and convince them of the value of being a true Spartan.
Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley