Saturday, January 04, 2014
Dantonio, Like Schembechler, Too Midwest to Be Texan—Or Anything Else
The Chairman of the Board of college football coaches in Michigan never thought he’d even consider leaving his school. He was firmly entrenched, his fan base and alumni loved him, and besides, he was a Midwestern guy all the way.
There wasn’t a lot of Texas in Bo Schembechler, except for maybe his moniker.
Schembechler was a Glenn, by birth, and he was Bo in nickname only. The University of Michigan coach wasn’t the cowboy type and never would be.
Schembechler learned his football in Ohio, like so many of the game’s greats, and he was more small town than he was “Texas big.”
But in early 1982, Schembechler had some of that Texas money thrown at him and it gave him pause.
Schembechler had just completed his 13th season in Ann Arbor, and he had come a long way since a newspaper trumpeted his hiring with the headline, “Bo WHO?”
Texas A&M came calling in January ’82. And they came hauling a bagful of cash.
The Aggies were prepared to make Bo the highest paid coach in college football at the time. There was even talk of adding Athletic Director to his title, or at least after he was done coaching.
A&M offered Bo nearly $3 million for 10 years. Today that’s a drop in the bucket. But in 1982, it was high stakes, Texas Hold ‘Em stuff.
It was close. Bo was tempted. He was never one to use another school to leverage Michigan, but he didn’t have to. U-M AD Don Canham made a counter offer, the terms undisclosed.
For several days the newspapers, TV and radio stations played “Will he or won’t he?” in regard to Bo’s future at Michigan, and whether he’d chuck it all for College Station’s money and added power of athletic director.
When A&M reached out to him, Bo was one year removed from finally grabbing his elusive first Rose Bowl victory. In a quirk of scheduling, Michigan actually won two bowl games in 1981—the Rose Bowl on January 1 and the Bluebonnet Bowl in the Houston Astrodome on New Year’s Eve.
A couple weeks after trouncing UCLA in Houston, Bo was approached by the Aggies, who tried to make a play for what would have been the Shot Heard ‘Round the World when it comes to college football.
There was some strong feeling at the time that Bo would leave Michigan, even though Texas A&M didn’t seem like a good fit for him—from a personality standpoint and from a coaching perspective.
Schembechler and Woody Hayes had combined to define Big Ten football in the 10 years they coached U-M and Ohio State, respectively, from 1969-78—before Woody was run out of Columbus in shame for slugging a Clemson player during a bowl game.
So would Bo actually leave Ann Arbor and his Midwest roots and his CEO status among Big Ten coaches, for a stinking job in Texas of all places?
For a couple days, it was dicey. It was like a patient teetering between life and death in the hospital.
But eventually Schembechler made his decision, and in doing so everyone associated with Michigan football heaved a sigh of relief.
"Frankly, I've come to the conclusion that there are things more important in this world than money," Bo told the press in making his announcement. "For that reason, I've decided to stay at Michigan.”
And stay Bo did—for eight more seasons before retiring from coaching.
Mark Dantonio is, at this moment, the Chairman of the Board of college football coaches in the state of Michigan. At first he assumed the title by default, after Lloyd Carr retired in 2008. But now, Michigan State’s Dantonio has earned it, fair and square.
Dantonio, without question, currently runs the premier college football program in the state. His 2013 Spartans, Big Ten and Rose Bowl champs, represent his finest hour in coaching.
All of this heady success, in the college ranks, usually makes you a hot commodity and your name starts to roll off the tongues of the rumor mongers when it comes to available jobs elsewhere.
Another school in Texas has been mentioned as a possible destination for Dantonio.
The University of Texas, in Austin, has been reported to have wanted Dantonio to fly down and interview for their coaching job, vacated by the resignation of Mack Brown.
Those reports now appear moot, as the school is reportedly on the verge of hiring Louisville coach Charlie Strong to replace Brown.
But Texas’ hiring of Strong, if it comes to be, won’t do a thing to squash rumors of Dantonio going, well, just about anywhere. Such is the case when you become hot stuff.
Only Mark Dantonio can stop the rumors.
Like his basketball counterpart in East Lansing, Dantonio seems destined to be mentioned whenever high profile schools are looking for coaches.
Dantonio, though, is another Midwestern guy. His roots are firm here. The idea of Dantonio leaving for a money grab doesn’t mesh with his persona.
But that won’t stop the speculation.
Again, only Dantonio can snuff out the rumor mongers.
Only Dantonio can tell the media, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m happy at Michigan State and this is my home.”
Of course, there will be those who won’t believe him, even though Dantonio has no track record of flitting from job to job. In fact, he left MSU as an assistant but bounced right back, a few years later, as the Spartans’ head coach.
The fact that Dantonio hasn’t stomped out the rumors might give some Spartan boosters consternation over the coach’s intentions, but like Bo Schembechler, Mark Dantonio appears to be content to be a Michigander and not a Texan, or anything else.
The balance of power in college football in Michigan has unquestioningly swung to East Lansing these days. Dantonio’s program is stronger than ever.
His name will be bandied about, going forward, attached to high profile jobs across the country.
It’s just something Spartan fans will have to live with as being part of the cost of doing business as an elite college football program—which MSU currently is.
Why else would everyone across the lower 48 states want Dantonio to coach at their school?