Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Mark Dantonio era at Michigan State mirrors that of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa...and that could be a problem.

While Kirk Ferentz wasn't an option when Michigan State was looking for a new football coach in 2002, at the time I longed for the Spartans to model their program after his Iowa Hawkeyes. 

After all, if Ferentz could parlay Iowa's past legacy as a football power into becoming a BCS contender in corn town based upon a stout defense and a solid running game, surely somebody like minded could make the same thing happen in East Lansing.

Sparty Said Knock You Out!

Michigan State was just three years removed from the Nick Saban era, and while Bobby Williams had maintained the Spartans talent level through his recruiting, he had lost control of his program, on and off the field.

The Spartans had one chance to make an impact coaching hire or risk losing the momentum their program had built under Saban.

Unfortunately, Ron Mason, Michigan State's Athletic Director at the time went for a "big name" hire in Louisville Cardinal head coach, John. L. Smith.

Living in Kentucky, I knew that the John L. Smith hire would be a disaster from day one, but Ron Mason was in water above his head as a first time Athletic Director, and John L. Smith was a snake oil salesman.

Never mind the fact that Urban Meyer practically begged Michigan State for an interview after kicking off half the Bowling Green roster he inherited and still managed to turn their program around in just one year, but John L.'s Louisville teams were marred by the same type of behavior problems that he was being hired to clean up.

However, that cowboy could sell some oil, and he was able to convince Mason that he needed to buy some.

Fast forward four years, and Kirk Ferentz success at Iowa continued. In fact, he was frequently rumored to be a candidate for many NFL head coaching vacancies.

Meanwhile, Michigan State was once again looking for a new head coach after John L. Smith coached and slapped his way out of East Lansing.

This time Michigan State had a new rising star in Athletic Director Mark Hollis, who went with a Ferentz clone in Mark Dantonio as his new hire.

Dantonio immediately brought his Spartans back to respectability, making them bowl eligible in his first season as head coach. By his fourth season he had brought Michigan State their first Big Ten title in 22 years, based largely upon a solid running game and a strong defense.

However, college football was beginning to change, and Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes were starting to get left behind based upon a lack of playmaker at the quarterback position and an insistence on running the ball at all costs. 

Not only did Iowa begin to lag in the Big Ten standings, but you could all but pencil their once Big Ten championship caliber teams in for a loss to either Iowa State or a MAC school each and every year.

And while Michigan State Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi has gone on to build what is perhaps the best defense in America, Dantonio risks wasting it after failing to develop another NFL caliber "pro style" quarterback after the graduation of Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins.

Much like Iowa, Michigan State has gone conservative, and now runs a predictable and conservative run orientated attack, rarely even attempting to throw the ball vertically down field.

Unlike Iowa, I do think Dantonio realizes the need to evolve, as he's expressed a desire to base his offense around a more mobile quarterback going forward.

Unfortunately, his upperclassmen do not have the requisite skill set to run such an offense, and his more mobile underclassmen are apparently not yet ready.

Hopefully Dantonio makes the correct call going forward, or his Spartans may find themselves more similar to the Iowa Hawkeyes than they would like.

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