Mark Dantonio resigns as head football coach at Michigan State

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Only 17 days after collecting a $4.3 million retention bonus, Mark Dantonio resigned as Michigan State's head football coach on Feb. 4.

Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio resigned Tuesday after 13 seasons at the helm. He announced his decision in a Twitter post.

Dantonio is the school’s all-time leader in wins and won three Big Ten championships. He also led the Spartans to the 2015 College Football Playoff.

Dantonio compiled a 114-57 overall record (66.7%), going 69-39 (63.9%) in Big Ten play. From 2010-2015, Michigan State won at least 11 games in five out of six seasons, including a 13-1 mark in 2013 when it won the Rose Bowl.

Dantonio took the Spartans bowling in 12 out of 13 seasons, with the only exception being a dismal 3-9 campaign in 2016. They bounced back in 2017, however, going 10-3 and winning the Holiday Bowl.

But Michigan State went 7-6 in both 2018 and ’19, and there are other issues to unpack here. Dantonio resigned 17 days after cashing a $4.3 million retention bonus.

He also left on the eve of National Signing Day. Needless to say, this isn’t the ideal time for a school to go searching for its next coach.

The announcement also came less than 24 hours after Dantonio was accused of NCAA violations in court documents from a wrongful termination lawsuit. At a Tuesday night presser in East Lansing, Dantonio said the lawsuit had “zero” to do with his decision.

Four members of Michigan State’s 2016 recruiting class were kicked off the team after sexual assault charges were filed against them in 2017. One of those players, Auston Robertson, had a checkered past that included allegations of sexual misconduct and a misdemeanor battery charge.

Robertson was accused of rape in 2017. Although he pleaded out to lesser charges, he’s still in prison serving a sentence of at least 43 months and up to 10 years.

According to an explosive 2018 report from ESPN’s Outside the Lines, “Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines.”

In an odd media scrum conducted in the bowels of Breslin Center before the start of a Michigan State basketball game on Jan. 25 of 2018, the same day the OTL report was published, Dantonio vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Where does Sparty go from here? Well, unless the school is going to hire a coach from the NFL or an assistant, it’s not going to be the best look for the next coach to bolt a few days after convincing recruits to spend the next four years with him at a different school.

Ah, such is life in the coaching bid’ness.

Ohio State is the dream job for Luke Fickell, Cincinnati’s head coach who was born in Columbus, played for the Buckeyes, spent more than a decade on the staff as an assistant and was the interim head coach in 2011 (before Urban Meyer was hired and after Jim Tressel was forced out). However, Ryan Day is entrenched at Fickell’s alma mater and won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Whether the 46-year-old Fickell wasn’t interested or any major push for his services went unreported, four SEC jobs were filled in the last two months without his name getting much run. And those were lower-tier SEC gigs.

I think Fickell would have a hard time turning down an upper-tier Big Ten job, assuming Michigan State approaches him with a strong offer. He’s certainly deserving of a big-time opportunity, demonstrating as much by winning 11 games at UC in back-to-back seasons.

Another potential candidate is Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, who served as Dantonio’s defensive coordinator from 2007-2014. The 53-year-old Narduzzi is 36-29 since taking over the Panthers in 2015. He’s finished 8-5 three times during his five-year tenure.

Narduzzi is 1-3 in four bowl games at Pitt. He wouldn’t be a splash hire by any means, but — again — this isn’t the ideal time of year to be shopping for a head coach.

There could be a wild-card candidate in San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who is from Dearborn, Mich., and was an assistant at Michigan State in 2002 and 2003. Saleh’s stock couldn’t be much higher than it is now but, much like Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, other NFL teams filled their coaching vacancies before both men coached in Super Bowl LIV.

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