Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio steps down after 13 years with Spartans

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has stepped down.

Dantonio, 63, announced Tuesday that he would end his coaching career. Dantonio has been at Michigan State for 13 years and has a record of 114-57 with the Spartans. Michigan State beat Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl to end the 2019 season.

“I have told our players on many occasions that ‘Michigan State is bigger than any one person. Someday there will be someone else here talking to you from this podium.’ That day has come,” Dantonio wrote in his farewell letter to Michigan State fans.

“There have been so many amazing life moments in the last 13 years. When I reflect, I think of our Big Ten championship games, our Big Ten championships, the big games, the playoffs, the bowl wins, the moments, the milestones, the graduates, the NFL opportunities and finally, and perhaps most importantly, the relationships made.”

Dantonio said in the letter that he planned to stay on with the university in a different capacity. He said Tuesday evening in a news conference that he had crafted the letter in the past week while traveling for recruiting and said the decision had been weighing on him for “quite a while.”

“I just felt like I couldn’t honor those guys, talking with those individuals, saying ‘hey, I can be there for your time,’” Dantonio said of talking with recruits who are a part of the 2021 recruiting class.

His departure from the program comes a day before National Signing Day. While many recruits signed during the early signing period in December, it’s very rare for a coaching change — especially one of this magnitude — to happen during the recruiting cycle. Michigan State’s 2020 class currently ranks No. 36 in the country. Nineteen of its 22 commits signed letters of intent in December.

Dantonio also leaves Michigan State less than a month after he got a $4.3 million bonus from the school. The bonus rolled into his projected salary for the 2020 season and would have made him the second-highest paid coach in football for the upcoming year.

Dantonio had said as recently as November that he planned to be the school’s coach in 2020. As whispers began about his future during the 2019 season, he said before the end of the regular season that he was expecting to be MSU’s coach in 2020.

“I can’t predict the future, but my intentions are to be the head football coach here,” Dantonio said in November. “I’ve always said I live in the present. There’s certain things you have control of and there’s certain things you don’t have control of. I can’t control everything, but my intentions are, yeah, absolutely. My father always taught me to complete circles. Complete the circle, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

MSU won 65 games from 2010-15

Michigan State went on a remarkable run under Dantonio from 2010-15. The Spartans won 65 games in those six seasons and won at least 11 games in five of them. The worst season in that stretch was a 7-6 campaign in 2012.

The best season came in 2015 when Michigan State won the Big Ten and made the College Football Playoff. The Spartans beat Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on the way to the conference title but were throttled 38-0 by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl playoff semifinal.

In the four years since that playoff beatdown, things haven’t gone nearly as well. While MSU won 10 games in 2017, the Spartans were 3-9 the year before. And Michigan State has finished 7-6 in each of the past two seasons as the team’s offense has sputtered. MSU has been outside the top 100 in scoring offense in 2018 and 2019.

That 3-9 season in 2016 was one of two losing seasons Dantonio had in his 13 years with Michigan State. He came to the school in 2007 after serving as Cincinnati’s head coach for three seasons.

Dantonio ends his Michigan State career as the school’s winningest coach. He passed Duffy Daugherty atop the MSU wins list in September when the Spartans beat Northwestern for Dantonio’s 110th win.

Lawyers for former staffer allege NCAA violations

Dantonio had long been scheduled to be deposed in a lawsuit involving a former Michigan State staffer. Curtis Blackwell, the team’s former recruiting director, sued the school and Dantonio for wrongful termination.

Blackwell alleged in a deposition this fall that an assistant coach on Dantonio’s staff said he didn’t want his daughter on the same campus as Auston Robertson, a player Michigan State was recruiting. Robertson signed with Michigan State out of high school following sexual assault accusations and was sentenced to up to 10 years in jail in December of 2018 for raping a woman at an off-campus apartment in 2017.

Monday evening, Blackwell’s lawyers alleged that Dantonio improperly allowed him (Blackwell) to go to an in-home visit for a five-star recruit and that Dantonio helped arrange employment for family members of players with a booster.

Per the Detroit Free-Press, Dantonio said in his Jan. 10 deposition that he cleared the hires with compliance. His lawyers also told the paper that the Monday night allegations were a “sham.”

As for the first claim, Dantonio, in his Jan. 10 deposition, said he never directed Blackwell to talk to [Bob] Skandalaris about employment for family members of "high profile recruits," but he acknowledged that family members were hired — and all were approved by MSU's compliance department, Dantonio said.

Blackwell's lawyers dispute that, citing a Jan. 21 deposition by MSU compliance officer Jennifer Smith, who said she "did not recall the compliance office approving any such arrangements."

Dantonio was asked at his news conference if the suit had any impact on his decision to retire. He was short and to the point.

“Zero. No relevance whatsoever,” he said.

He was asked about the suit again a few questions later. And after Dantonio said he tried not to say anything negative about people, he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in discussing the suit.

“We’re not talking about this here,” Dantonio said. “It’s a celebration.”

Blackwell was suspended in 2017 and his contract wasn’t renewed in May of that year after an external investigation determined that he didn’t properly report accusations of sexual misconduct by three former Michigan State players.

A Title IX investigation in that case determined that Dantonio was cleared of wrongdoing and said that he followed proper reporting protocols.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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