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Un Homme Têtu: Mark Dantonio’s Resistance to Change, Meditations on Futility, and Sad French Films. It’s Michigan State Week.

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In the end, we all die.

Welcome to Ennui Week here at OTE, also known as Michigan State week! Sometime in the last few years, MSU transitioned from Team-With-All-Galaxy-Defense-and-a-Decent-Offense to Team-With-Good-Defense-That-Refuses-to-Score-Because-of-Some-Unstated-But-Definite-Principle. As a result, they’ve become very, very, very hard to watch, both for their fans, and for opposing fans whose teams are unlucky enough to get into a rock fight with them. Seriously, MSU’s offense last year was so bad, it’s actually kind of an insult to rocks to refer to their games as “rock fights.”

Sorry rocks. Y’all deserved better.

How bad was it? MSU finished three different games with the score of “6,” and one more with “7.” It’s not quite Rutgers bad, but still MSU--that’s not a conversation you even want to be in, you know?

As a result of their steadfast refusal to score, MSU struggled to an uninspiring 7-6 record, which is actually a little impressive to anyone who watched them last year. The defense was good enough that it kept the final scores from being blowouts on paper, yet the way this team played, any time they got down by more than a touchdown, it felt like a death blow. The Spartans finished the season in the most apt way possible, losing 7-6 in their bowl game against Oregon.

As a result, MSU wasn’t a contender in spite of their defense, and unless things change drastically this year (spoiler alert: coaching-wise, they did not), they’re not looking to be much of a contender this year either.


So, in an embrace of the nihilistic flavor that MSU has brought to its fans, we ask, if nothing mattered, like Michigan State football, what would you eat?

Boilerman: Well, that was a helluva bleak intro. I guess if nothing mattered, like my waistline or cardio, I’d eat Italian Combo Sandwiches from Portillo’s (Dipped with sweet peppers, of course) with Fries and Chocolate Cake Shakes. Be still my cholesterol, be still.

Andrew: Probably just more Sonic. I’m a sucker for Ocean Water, what can I say.

Stew: Boy that certainly could open a whole host of terrible possibilities. Massive amounts of grilled, smoked, or fried meat: brisket, steak, pulled pork, ribs (of both varieties), prime rib, burgers, brats, wings, pork chops, beer battered cod, smoked salmon. And just go ahead and wrap all of those in bacon, for good measure. Chocolate-Strawberry malts with every meal. And yes, I would like some veggies: onion rings, fried pickles, fried potatoes of every variety.

Beez: So basically we’re asking what our go-to food is when life is bleak and we may as well be eating dirt and lying on the couch all day? Papa Johns pizza is at the top of the list, but I’d also probably add in crappy Chinese delivery that you wait 90 minutes for, order like 7 different things because you can’t decide, and then still eat way too much of even though with every bite you understand just how bad the food is but dammit you paid $35 for food-for-one and you’re not going to waste it and what does it even matter, it’s not like MSU was going to be an entertaining watch.

Creighton: Honestly if nothing mattered anymore I’d just stay home and order pizza in my underwear. When things are as bleak as a Dantonio offense there’s not really much point into putting time and effort into creating elaborate and delicious meals or putting pants on to go out to dinner, and anybody telling you otherwise isn’t sulking properly. Nah, just order a pizza, crack open a beer, and sink deeper into a pool of your own filth while you watch BoJack Horseman. It’s what you deserve.

BRT: So many hamburgers. With bacon. And blue cheese. Lots of waffles with chocolate chips. Premium ice cream every day. I’d probably never eat a vegetable again.

WSR: If nothing mattered anymore, I would live the rest of my life eating either steaks or burgers from Blue Door. Unlike Michigan State fans, though, my nihilism will be delicious and make me happy.

Thumpasaurus: well i guess i’d just continue eating exactly as i’m eating now, wouldn’t i?

BRT: Leave it to Thump to just take us right over the edge into the abyss of despair.


Adding to the despair of fans forced to watch the MSU Strugglebus painfully hobble toward the faint hope of a field goal attempt, was their certainty that Head Coach Mark Dantonio would do absolutely nothing coaching-wise to attempt to fix the situation. They were correct--no firings took place, but Dantonio DID shuffle everyone around. As WhiteSpeedReciever puts it:

“They were 13th in YPG, YPP, and PPG last year, and the solution was to give everyone new business cards.”

So what do you think? Is Dantonio’s loyalty genius or liability? Was last year an exceptionally bad year that can be overcome with mere tinkering this year? Or was this a missed opportunity that is going to cause MSU fans to endure another season of excruciating offensive ineffectiveness? Will shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic have any real impact?

Bonus: On your team, which coach’s loyalty to another coach most damaged your team?

Boilerman: Dantonio’s loyalty should be his downfall, yet, here we are. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So I guess we’ll see if his shuffling counts as changing something or not.

When it comes to Purdue, Brohm’s loyalty to his coaches and what effect it has remains to be seen.

Andrew: I used to go back and forth on this, but I’m firmly on the drawback perspective now. Dantonio’s famous loyalty hasn’t kept Dan Enos, Pat Narduzzi, or Harlon Barnett from leaving for better opportunities. All it really results in at this point is sticking with guys who aren’t doing the job and therefore aren’t wanted anywhere else. So remind me of the advantage here? Plus, if there’s any way to fall behind the times in this game, it’s working with the same lineup of guys for a decade-plus at a time of offensive revolution the game hasn’t seen since the forward pass was legalized. As I’ll mention in more detail, this shakeup only matters if Dantonio loosens his grip on the offense. Left to his own devices, maybe Brad Salem can be good at this. But if his marching orders are to continue running DAVE into a line that can’t run block, the result won’t change.

MNW: I think it’s both made the Michigan State program what it is, and will both hold it back from higher levels but maintain what is probably as good as it will getting for a school that is, justifiably or not, second banana in its state for oxygen and ‘croots.

Just looking at the two middling seasons Michigan State has had in the teens (7-6 in 2012 and 2018), the formula is pretty similar: losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Nebraska (and a loss to Iowa in 2012). That feels to me both the maddening inconsistency of Michigan State, and yet the genius. It’s why Michigan State can crack through, but why Harbaugh being at least a competent third-place team and Franklin having pulled Penn State’s floor up to the 7-5 neighborhood is a problem. State needs to catch two of those plus Ohio State, then not shit the bed against Northwestern or Nebraska. And while Dantonio has a disciplined enough on-field program to contain the best, it can also be exploited by those middling programs.

Oh, and the bonus: Mick McCall. Mick fucking McCall. Sorry in advance, Hunter Johnson.

Beez: I can’t answer this question in a fair way because Dantonio and all his MSU fans just suck so, so hard, but yes, Dantonio is the problem. I think he did a great job exploiting the “they can’t call every pass interference, right?” phase, and he caught lightning in a bottle a couple times, but even boring-ass Wisconsin runs jet sweeps sometimes. I certainly don’t think his loyalty is genius, but is it as much of a liability as it was for former B1G super-loyal HC Urbz? Nah, not even close, but then Urbz had way more success on the field, so who even know what’s what anymore.

I’m sure there’s a parallel dimension somewhere with MSU and Wisconsin having swapped divisions, and in that universe, Wisconsin loses every year to its big-time divisional opponents while MSU generally does well in the division with routine losses to Northwestern, though, so maybe it’s not super fair to criticize a coach whose team has to play actual good opponents multiple times per year, but then again, MSU fans, so I’m fine with not being fair.

Paul Chryst’s loyalty to whoever calls offensive plays has been less than ideal. I don’t know who that is.

Stew: At this point I’m halfway convinced that every long-tenured coach of a historically middle and below program in the B1G are all following a similar pattern. Get a TON of success, rival the best runs in program history, secure lifetime contract, become increasingly stubborn and dogmatic about a very specific part of the game, alienate a substantial portion of the fanbase with said stubbornness, be just successful enough to never get fired. Congrats to Ferentz, Dantonio, and Fitzgerald for mastering this art.

WSR: Loyalty to mediocre (or worse) assistants is how you end up with ants a Jerry Kill offense. Matt Limegrover as an OC, and employing Jim Zebrowski as a QB Coach or new Kansas State RB Coach Brian Anderson as anything. Don’t be loyal to shit coaches or you’re going to make your fanbase miserable and wish you were gone instead of just them.

Thumpasaurus: There is something to be said for consistency and sticking to the plan...when you’re building a program from the ground up. Chris Ash had three OC’s in his first three years, and it hasn’t yet proven to be a winning strategy. However, that’s not exactly the same situation as a coach who’s been around for over a decade. It’s not just loyalty; staying the course is also the “safe” option. The conservative option. The...complacent option.

Based on the way recruiting is going now, a high-profile recruiter might have added more to the defensive staff than Lovie Smith’s kid.

Creighton: Michigan State reminds me a lot of Iowa when Greg Davis was the coordinator. The offense was horrendous for years for a number of reasons, and everyone on staff was too stubborn to change anything because the defense was just good enough to pull off 7 or 8 unwatchable wins per year-- enough to prevent paying a massive contract buyout from being justified. I can tell MSU fans from experience that tinkering never works and that the only solution is personnel and philosophical changes. Sorry, but you’re in it for the long haul.

I think Kirk’s loyalty has been a net positive because he’s been able to keep some excellent assistant coaches who helped create a gold standard for player development around for a very long time. However, I don’t know if it was loyalty or if Kirk literally just doesn’t know how to fire people, but there was absolutely no reason for keeping guys like Bobby Kennedy and Greg Davis around the program for as long as he did.

BRT: I don’t think MSU will be quite as bad as last year, simply because there isn’t a ton of room for them to be worse, but that’s not the same as me saying their offense will be good or successful. They may improve marginally, but not enough to keep the heat off of Dantonio for not making any real coaching changes.

That said, I totally understand how coaches get sucked into the loyalty trap. Even taking any personal connections out of the mix, bringing in a new person is also hugely risky. Will they mesh well with the rest of the staff? The players? Are players going to leave when you fire the old guy? How long do you give him to establish his offense, particularly if it’s a substantial change that requires a lot of learning or different talent? Right or wrong, it makes a lot of sense why coaches are often hesitant to pull the plug.


Will Mark Dantonio’s mild restructuring pay off for MSU?

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