Urban Meyer shocked by Mark Dantonio’s retirement as Michigan State coach

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State coach Ryan Day shakes hands with Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio after OSU’s 34-10 win in Ohio Stadium on Oct. 5. Dantonio went 3-8 against the Buckeyes in his 13 seasons as Spartans coach but dealt former OSU coach Urban Meyer two of his more devastating defeats. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

In his seven years as Ohio State football coach, no one challenged Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes more than Michigan State under Mark Dantonio.

Meyer has often voiced his immense respect for Dantonio and was stunned Tuesday to hear the news that the Spartans coach is stepping down after 13 seasons.

“Mark and I have been friends since his Cincinnati days,” Meyer told The Dispatch, referring to Dantonio’s time as the University of Cincinnati coach. “I think he’s one of the best tacticians in the game of football that I ever coached against.”

Meyer’s OSU seasons were often defined by how the Buckeyes did against the Spartans. Ohio State’s 17-16 victory in Meyer’s first season of 2012 was the first validation for a team that would go undefeated.

Meyer said the 49-37 win over the favored Spartans in 2014 in East Lansing “was probably our best game against them” and propelled them to the Buckeyes’ national championship run.

But the 2013 loss in the Big Ten championship game denied Ohio State a chance at the national title and ended Meyer’s 24-game winning streak to start his OSU career. Michigan State’s 2015 upset of the Buckeyes in Columbus, ending the 30-game regular-season conference winning streak, did the same. That loss still haunts Meyer.

“To this day,” he said. “To this day.”

Dantonio had a 114-57 record in 13 seasons at Michigan State. He’s the Spartans’ all-time winningest coach.

“Arguably the greatest era of Michigan State football — the modern era — is Mark Dantonio’s,” Meyer said.

A Zanesville native, Dantonio was defensive coordinator at Ohio State under Jim Tressel and was instrumental in the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship. He coached at UC for three seasons (2004-06) before replacing John L. Smith at Michigan State in 2007.

Before Dantonio’s arrival in East Lansing, the Spartans had a reputation as chronic underachievers. He transformed the Spartans into a tough team that seldom beat itself.

In particular, he turned the tide of the rivalry with Michigan, which famously viewed MSU as a “little brother.”

“Whenever you talk about the rivalry between Michigan State and the team up north, he changed it,” Meyer said. “He changed the narrative after that whole big brother comment.”

Michigan State slumped to 7-6 records the past two seasons, leading to speculation about Dantonio’s future. The timing of his resignation — the day before the second national signing day — is curious.

Speculation has already begun about a successor, with Luke Fickell, the former Ohio State player and assistant coach and current coach at Cincinnati, mentioned prominently. Meyer didn’t want to comment on that, but he expects the Spartans to hire a worthy successor.

“I’ve always had respect for the Michigan State community and football program,” Meyer said. “I love Michigan State. Since my Notre Dame days (in the 1990s), I’ve thought Michigan State is a great place. They’ll find a great coach.”


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