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Michigan State’s 2010 Football Program is in Critical Need of a Course Correction Immediately
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 graduate of the State of Michigan. It was easy to understand why.
In my last two seasons watching the Spartans as a student-athlete, the Michigan State players and their coach Duffy Daugherty won both the Big Ten and national championships in 1965 and 1966. After graduating in 1966, it would take 21 long years before George Perles brought MSU back to some kind of notoriety when the Spartans went 9-2-1 and won the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl in 1987.
The arrival of Mark Dantonio, after years of losing to arch-rivals Michigan and Ohio State, brought hope for a struggling program. Dantonio was the defensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national championship team in 2002 and had built a reputation as a winner to be reckoned with.
In his first season, Dantonio went 7-5 and took Michigan State to a bowling game for the first time in 4 years – and his 5 losses were by 7 points or less. Last year, he continued his march to prominence by improving his record to 9-4 and appearing in a second straight game.
This year turned into a nightmare before it barely 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 would end up finishing the season 12-2 was irrelevant – it was how Michigan State responded to the challenge that was troubling.
MSU then went on the road and lost a close game to another 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 rival Michigan 26-20 in overtime, and also beat Illinois and Northwestern to sit at 4-3. Unhappy with any success, they immediately lost at home to Iowa and on the road to Minnesota and fell back to 4-5. Fortunately, they then beat Western Michigan and Purdue before being eliminated by Penn State, 42-14, and finding themselves barely eligible to bowl at 6-6.
What happened next signaled trouble ahead for the Michigan State Spartans. A total of 14 Spartan players have been suspended from the squad pending an investigation into a fight in a dorm in November. The players in question did not travel 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 nevertheless 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 no exaggeration. There’s a huge difference between 9-4 in 2008 and 6-7 in 2009. It’s not just about the wins and losses – as bad as that is – it’s also about the apparent lack of chemistry of team, the apparent disinterest of some players, and the apparent non-performance of some “hot shot” rookies.
The problem was, as the great college football coach Lou Holtz says, “When all is said and done, more has been said than done.”
If anyone is wondering what happened to the Michigan State Spartans this year, the telltale signs are obvious: 14 players suspended for apparently getting into a fight in a dorm. When did Michigan State gain a reputation as a school that recruits players interested in “thugging” and “mugging” 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 of a school-sponsored dance in October.
Dozens of college football players have been suspended or kicked from their teams for violent or criminal behavior this year. Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount hit a Boise State player in midfield after the Broncos upset the Ducks 19-8 in the opening game for both teams this year. Other players from other teams face charges ranging from theft to rape.
You have to ask yourself, “What is going on with these talented and privileged athletes? Some of them left after their first season because they were too lazy, too unruly, or too stupid to get passing grades in their classes. Some run like they’re God’s gift to football, ‘chatter’ and act illiterate – in some cases they can’t write a full sentence and would find it difficult to communicate with anyone who isn’t. where they surfaced. Often they add nothing of substance to the area they occupy.
Life is not that complicated for anyone who pays attention to it. By the time athletes even reach the college campus, they should know right from wrong, they should have basic manners and respect for everyone they come in contact with, and they should have enough restraint not to steal. their roommate, rape a girl, or engage in gang violence.
Yoga taught me “impulse control”, the ability to feel an urge and delay its reaction.
Violent and criminal behavior should never be tolerated. We all face challenges in life. Each of us suffers from failure, rejection and ridicule growing up. Life is not a resting place; it is a place of testing. We all face challenges every day of our lives. Either we learn to deal with these challenges or we become victims of them.
What drives young people today to solve their problems by going home, picking up a gun, coming back and killing someone because their feelings are hurt, or because they were dismissed or ridiculed. Learning to deal with problems is part of growing up. People who indiscriminately kill other people place no value on their own lives and therefore place no value on the lives of those they would kill.
The values of respect, tolerance, acceptance, compromise and love, among others, must be taught and learned. If there is no one around, then you have to 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 how to behave in a civilized society, we take you out of circulation by locking you up, that is, if you don’t get yourself killed by someone else first.
Michigan State’s 14 suspended players — if convicted as suspects — are immature, lack good judgment, lack character and lack integrity. No one does something as stupid as they apparently did without being more self-centered than other-centered.
Let there be no doubt about the value of having character and integrity. I don’t believe you can build a champion team without a substantial dose of both.
And let there be no doubt about how character is developed. Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can learn 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 watching, and that’s especially true if you can personally benefit from what you do. Integrity is about making decisions with the right thought and the right motives. You cannot be upright and self-centered, full of yourself, greedy, dishonest, jealous, stupid, arcane and bovine like a stupid cow wandering in a field following other stupid cows.
All this to say that Mark Dantonio must do some serious cleaning. Dantonio must figure out who is really willing to work for success. Who not only wants to play football but loves the game and needs to play football. Who is a winner ready to take on and face challenges head-on. And who appreciates the opportunity to wear a Michigan State Spartan uniform.
You can’t win with losers, and there are apparently losers on the MSU football team who shouldn’t be on the team. If the remaining players can’t help Michigan State take the next step forward, then Dantonio needs to find players of character who can and convince them of the value of being a true Spartan.
Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley
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