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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 20, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Here to recap the Northwestern game and to look ahead to Minnesota, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: Just to really move forward, I guess, I made all my comments the other night. We can talk about it as you guys ask me questions.
This week up is Minnesota. I think it's a program game for us, no question about that. Sometimes you have your goals in mind, you have to reevaluate your goals as you move forward. Right now our goal is to get to a bowl game.
When you look at our football season, I know expectations were high among ourselves, and maybe outside as well. Sometimes I guess you take two steps forward, you take a step back, you plant your foot in the ground, drive forward. That's what happened after our 2007, 2008 season, we slipped back to 6‑6, put or foot in the ground, moved forward to an 11‑win season and another 11‑win season.
That's the case here. Tyler Hoover has decided to come back for a sixth year. That's notable. We'll petition that. A big‑body guy, defensive tackle that has played a lot of football for us.
In addition to that, I think our focus is there. I think we'll come to play on Saturday. Our energy is there. Again, I want to thank Michigan State fans for coming out this past Saturday. I thought our students showed up. I thought our fans showed up, did an outstanding job.
With that I'll take some questions.
Q. Mark, you talk about it being a program game. Games like this where you're on the road, tough losses, what do you learn about a team when you're in these situations like you will be Saturday?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we've learned about our football team as we go through tough times. I think that's the nature of it. You learn how they play and make decisions under pressure. As much as that, that's game field things.
We've done that every single game. There's no indication on my mind that we'll come any differently. We've lost a lot of close games. I think that's been documented. But we have to make plays at the end of the game to win those games.
To me, almost like we're running out of time. We need to get it done in 60 minutes as opposed to 61 or 62. At the end of the game we've always got a lot left. We find ourselves searching I think at the end of the game sometimes in terms of what we could have done, what could have made that one little aspect. But that's the nature of it.
I said all along there's great parity in this league. That's the nature of it. But I feel very, very good about our football team. A lot of ways, I'm very proud of our football team. Not in a lot of ways, I am very proud of our football game. How we've responded, gotten up and practiced every week, the chemistry and attitude that our team exists with.
Q. Can I ask you about expansion. I know it's beyond your control. What do you think of Maryland and Rutgers? What does that do for you as a coach? What do you feel about the possibility of nine or ten games in Big Ten play?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I think expansion is basically what I talked about last year or two years ago at this time when we talked about Nebraska coming in. I think that's the nature of society these days. It's the bigger mergers, the bigger expansion that people are doing to try to consolidate things, trying to make things better. I think that's what the Big Ten is trying to do.
It grabs two big population bases on the East Coast. Where that affects Michigan State, we've recruited on the East Coast, had success there. I know when I was here before, I recruited the Maryland, D.C. area. We had Sorie Kanu, Julian Peterson, I think Desmond Thomas, just right off the bat that I can think of that came here and were tremendous players for us, so...
Q. (Question regarding the nine games.)
COACH DANTONIO: Nine games, I can't really comment on that, don't know about that. Those are things that are down the line and out of my control. As I've always found out, just play the game. Try to play the game within the rules. So that's what we'll do.
Q. Can you update us on the status of Kurtis Drummond?
COACH DANTONIO: We had a coverage blow after we tied it up 20‑20. It looked like he was a little bit dazed on the sidelines. But he could answer all questions and everything. So he's full go. He had a stinger, but he's full go.
Q. Mark, we all know that you evaluate players, grade them after each performance, move up and down depth charts. How do you grade your assistants? Do you do that at the end of the year, game‑by‑game basis?
COACH DANTONIO: Basically what we do is we have an evaluation process that sort of is usually done at the end of recruiting. Sometimes it's done after the season, obviously.
But I think coaches have responsibilities in all different types of areas. One, they're recruiters; two, they're coaches. They have relationships with their players. Do they follow the rules? How do they act within the staff? Are they good people? What is their maturity level? I think there's all different types of evaluations.
It can't just go in terms of what goes on on the field.
I would say that the responsibility with how we play ends up right here on me. That's where it's got to start. So I take responsibility. When we come up three points short, what could Mark Dantonio do to change that aspect of it? We come up two points short here or one point short here, what could I have done?
I think everybody is soul searching a little bit. It's got to stop at the top and trickle down. It all starts with me.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we constantly review it. After every game we go in and talk about the game, what could we have done differently, where the lack of execution was as a player or as a coach, structure.
Usually, again, I think I mentioned it before, when something breaks down, you ask yourself, is that structural, mental on the players, physical breakdown, and how significant was that breakdown.
From missing a kick to everything else that we do, we try and be as exact as we can in terms of critiquing it. But you do have a foundation of what you have to deal with. You can't all of a sudden, again as I mentioned before, say, Hey, we're coming out, we're an option football team tomorrow. You have to prepare for that. Those are things you do during the off‑season, during bowl prep possibly, during summer camp.
At the end of the day, you better be playing fast out there, understand exactly where to go with the ball if you're the quarterback. You have to have a foundation of a system in place, offensively, defensively and special teams in order to be able to handle that, all the problems being thrown at you, and play at a high rate of speed.
Some things need to change over the course of time, but you also have a background and a foundation of what's been successful for you.
Q. You've been self‑critical since you came here. As you look at this season, you're alone, what do you say you could have done differently?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, again, hindsight is always 20/20. You look at the things you can control, try and learn things, continually learn as a head football coach.
But, you know, do you go for it on fourth down or not? If you get it, all things are great in the Iowa game. I guess Iowa. I can't remember which one. Naturally you try to prepare yourself for those situations at the end of the game especially now.
They're only right when they come out right. Your decision is only right if it turns out right. Other than that, you're going to second guess yourself.
But I'm quite confident that every game we've gone into, I've made sure I've been fresh, that I've been rested, that I have all the information that I can have offensively, defensively and special teams, that I give latitude to the people that make decisions, try not to override them, create a burden on them, that I try to do everything I can to be successful.
That's all I can ask of my players and ourselves. In the quiet times, you're going to sit there, the more control you have over things, such as the quarterback, such as the head coach, such as the coordinator, the more opportunities to make decisions you have, the more times you sit there and say, What if I would have done this or that. I think that's the nature of this game in general.
Q. In terms of redshirts or anything like that...
COACH DANTONIO: I look back and say that. You always do. But what's best for the player? You got to look and say, What is best for the player? Demetrious Cox is a great example. I think he would be playing for us right now. Would he have played midyear for us? Probably not. How many mistakes would he have made getting him up to that level?
When you play young players, you're taking a risk at them making a crucial mistake as well.
What I found this year especially, although in years past you could say the same thing, is the margin of error is very, very small. That window is extremely small right now. Sometimes the ball just pops. We had special teams meetings last night.
Muma kicks off in Spartan Stadium last year, it hits on the 20, one yard inbounds, and the ball just runs right down the sidelines, stays inbounds, we tackle him inside the 15. Chances are that ball bounces out this year.
But it's just the nature sometimes how things are falling, too.
But I feel confident, I feel good about where we're at. I can walk into our meetings knowing that our players will put it on the line, that they'll lay it out there, that they won't flinch. That's a life lesson for all of us. I think that's what we have to look at and say that's what I'm proud of our football team for. We won't flinch, we'll come to play, we'll battle you, and we're a pretty good football team.
I see a lot of football teams out there right now that were ranked in the top 10 and now they're not. Not a lot, but some.
Q. You mentioned the Cox situation. As you look back at Macgarrett, do you wish you would have done something differently?
COACH DANTONIO: You wish you would have held his redshirt obviously. There is value in being coached at what you would call the varsity level, daily practice reps, as opposed to playing on the scout team where you're simulating somebody else's plays. That's the value. You have to understand that as a player, have to roll with it.
We give people an opportunity to play. It's up to them to make the best of that opportunity. At times you get in a football game. Hey, if you're not running the right route, covering up people, a wide receiver, you're not blocking effectively, all those things enter into it. It's a competitive‑type situation.
Q. You seem to remain fairly calm amidst the storm. We don't see if you kick the dog or punch walls. Is your frustration level high? Or does that rub off on your team if you publicly show you're pulling your hair out?
COACH DANTONIO: My frustration level, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed, but I'm not frustrated. I would be frustrated if we weren't coming to play. I would be frustrated if we were having off‑the‑field issues. I would be frustrated if all of our guys were flunking out.
That's not the case. We have good people here. We have people doing the right things. We have people getting an education. Our APR may be as high as it's ever been in a one‑year period, they tell me up around 972 or whatever. So we're doing a lot of good things here.
We've just got to win. I'm not naïve to that. I said that in the press conference. All that is good, coming close is great, but the bottom line is you do have to win. We have to understand that.
My frustration level, I said before, we're building belief here in a program. If you look at the long‑term success of this program right now, we're coming. We're not there yet obviously. We had high hopes this year, but the reality of the situation, we probably didn't have the experience to go in at that depth.
You look at our defense, playing very, very well. We have one game left to play guaranteed, but we haven't gotten the turnovers that we got last year. We had five turnovers for touchdowns last year. We've not gotten one yet. Hopefully this will be the weekend.
There are some things where as well as we played in certain areas, things hadn't measured up like they did last year. We've got inexperience at other areas. We've gained experience. We'll be stronger for that.
Again, I think sometimes when you go through tough times and you're close, it creates resolve for you. I think that's what it's done for our coaches and our players.
I would say our chemistry is excellent. I would say our outlook on life is excellent. We could line up and play Ohio State or Notre Dame tomorrow. You don't think we'd carry ourselves like we'd win? They're the only undefeated teams. But I would bank on them coming in here and being extremely competitive with them. I'm not saying we're going to win, but we would be competitive. I think we've proven that point.
Q. (No microphone.
COACH DANTONIO: I think you learn a book from a defeat, however they say that. You know what I mean (laughter).
I mean, I think there's value in taking what you're doing if you're not successful at it, figuring out why it went wrong, coming together a little tighter, moving forward. I think our players will work extremely hard in the off‑season. I don't think you'll hear us talking about a national championship; I think you'll hear us talking about reality.
Sometimes our feet have to come back to the ground. Maybe that was the case after the 2011 season. Maybe we needed to float back down to earth a little bit, understand we're human beings. As soon as we take that approach in everything we do, we'll be better off. As soon as we understand nothing is given to us in life, it's not entitled to us, you have to earn it, we'll be better off.
I think, again, that's life lesson for all of us.
Q. I understand this probably isn't where your head is at, but with this being one of the more talented junior classes that you've had, when do you start thinking about going to the process of trying to make determinations for those guys about what's best for their future and for people that don't know can you describe what that process entails, what those players are considering when they're making those decisions?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, the first thing is I think when people decide whether they're going to forego their senior year or not, what are the reasons. If they're going to stay, they've got to have good reasons to stay, otherwise they're not happy. If they're going to leave, they've got to have good reasons to leave, otherwise they're not happy.
I think college is the greatest time in your life. It certainly is a learning process for you. It's an opportunity a little bit to be a little bit contained and protected.
But the process is the first thing that you would do as a young player is you could petition the NFL to get a read on what possible draft pick you would be, keeping in mind that the people that say that they're going out, 47% since 2007 of those people never get drafted. So 47% of the people that say, I'm going to go, they never get drafted.
You have to be projected probably within the first three rounds to be almost I think pretty certain that you're going to go. I have all the statistics on all those things in terms of, Hey, there's 39 players since 2007 that have been projected early‑round, first‑round players. 31 have gone in the first round. When you get into the third round, a lot different. It's a lot different.
So there's a lot of that going on from a statistical standpoint. People are in everybody's ear. The only thing I can tell you is my greatest example of all this is when I was a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, we were 7‑5, we lost a lot of close games. Mike Doss walked in and said, I'm coming back because I want to win a national championship. He was very certain about that. I just listened to him. He was a realist. But he had an opportunity to go out in the first or second round. He stayed and won a national championship. It wasn't easy. We won a lot of close games.
I mean, there's got to be value one way or the other and you have to weigh that value. I'll always try to do what's best for our players, listen to them.
What I don't want to do in those cases is I don't want to be selfish. I'm going to make sure I'm not selfish because I've never tried to be that for our players, I've tried to be for them. So that's how we handle it.
Q. In terms of close games, is that the type of thing where you feel in certain seasons those things snowball one way or the other; there's just a fate element to it?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you make your own breaks. I think when you're enthusiastic and playing well and things start happening, things continue to happen. I don't know why or how. I'd prefer to call it 'biorhythms', okay? You can call it 'fate'.
But I think when things start to happen well for you, it just rolls for you. You start to expect it. Usually when you're expecting things to happen, they happen.
That's how we try and handle it. But, yeah, I think you're right, what you said.
Q. Just wondering, when you look at getting the sixth win, what becomes more important to you, is that keeping the bowl streak alive or is that having extra practice time with this young team to get them ready for next year?
COACH DANTONIO: Without question for me, it's keeping the bowl streak alive, going to six straight bowls. In a tough year where you've lost some tough games very close, to be able to continue to respond, get over the hump a little bit, opportunity to play in a bowl game against a great opponent, and I'm sure we'd have a great one, those are the things that are important.
The bowl preparation is more work for everybody. But do you get significantly better as a football team over the bowl prep? I think you can get better, but you're spending time on who you're going to play and those type of things. You do give them a little bit of rest.
I think it's significant, the getting better, so it's twofold. If I had to place one above the other, I would say this is a program win, a program game. It's vital for the program ‑ 'vital' is a strong word, too ‑ but significant to the program that we become bowl eligible.
Q. Did you get a chance to see Keshawn Martin's touchdown?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I did not see that. I didn't see it, but I'll look for it now. I live in a bubble. I'm self‑absorbed. It's basically me and my family and the football program right now.
We lost a lot of great players last year. There's no question about that, guys that did their time, had their hurts. 2009, the season that we went through. But somehow we rose above it and were very successful. Obviously we miss guys like that.
Q. Back into your bubble. Minnesota, a team you looked a lot at this week. What challenges do they present? They finished the last couple seasons very strong, had a lot of success against Michigan State.
COACH DANTONIO: It's an improved football team. I think Coach Kill is a very, very good coach. In terms of concepts, the same thing I say every single week, teams are tied together conceptually. They understand what they're doing. They've had some injuries, they've overcome their injuries. They have a dynamic player with Gray they can use at wide receiver or quarterback. They have a freshman quarterback that I think is going to be a very good player.
Defensively they're hovering around in certain areas defensively in the top 30 in the nation, so they're an improved football team in that respect. They play hard, don't take one play off on any special teams play because they're going to fake something on you, whether it's a field goal, a possible punt or something. They're going to play to win.
Our time going up to Minnesota, we need to make sure our mind is right. Last time we went up there, we didn't play very well. But I think it was Halloween and fate (laughter). Just want to throw that in there.
But, no, they're an improved football team. But I think they're a well‑coached football team, so... Nothing personal.
Q. You talked about the pride on your team for preparation every week given the things that have gone wrong. At some point do you fear there's a point where the wheels come off, there's a give‑up? Have you been around a team where you've seen that before, warning signs of that ahead of time?
COACH DANTONIO: We've not had that type of team here since we've come back. When I was here before, I don't know if the wheels came off. We would rebound after a game. But we might lose a game, we might tank a game. At Ohio State, not really. Certainly at Cincinnati we had a couple games where we didn't play very well.
But here we've yet to have those type of things where it's been on a constant‑type situation. I'm very, very confident our football team will come to play. We'll have great practices today. All you have to do is talk to Max Bullough, Andrew Maxwell, or our seniors, Larry Caper, he's going into his last game, things haven't gone quite as well as he's wanted them to go, but his attitude is right.
Talk to Chris McDonald. Talk to Skyler Burkland. Talk to Isaiah Lewis, some of those other guys. Go talk to Rashad White. Their attitude is right. They'll play. Our energy will be right. It always has been. We pride ourselves on that.
Hey, we're close. Everybody understands in that locker room that we are what we are, but we could be this or that. We just got to close it out, finish it, open up a bigger gap, take advantage. You can't win a football game if you turn the ball over essentially five times. You can't. Very, very difficult. You can't have those type of things happen.
But with all that being said, with all that being said, I think the score was 20‑20, and we didn't have any turnovers after that. Is that correct? So we overcame all those turnovers and stood there at 20‑20 in the fourth quarter with 10 minutes to go in the game.
To me, that says something about the character of your football team and the ability to handle adversity. So continue to look at that and say that was a positive. You can have these turnovers, but we don't fold. Those are positives.
Q. You talked before the season about leadership was a concern. Is that maybe one of the most promising signs out of this group?
COACH DANTONIO: We have a large junior class coming back. Quality of people was not the question. The quality of people on our football team was not in question. The leadership, the void, the vacuum that was left when Kirk Cousins left, when Trent Robinson left, among the defensive linemen when Jerel left, those are the type of things we didn't really know how we would react in because they're different people.
It takes time. I've asked our guys, stand up if you were a team captain in high school. 85% of our guys would stand up. It takes time to develop that mantra in a college setting or an NFL setting. A guy that was a captain in college certainly may not be a captain in the NFL. Over time, after experience, he can become that.
Tough for Andrew Maxwell. When you're the starting quarterback for the first time, you have all these things to worry about. Now you're being asked to carry the torch as the guy in charge by the nature of the chemistry in our football team because of the nature of its youth.
Q. Obviously a lot of different things went into the offense this year, a lot of things maybe not as good as you hoped. Is there one thing that needs to come along in the off‑season that you think can help it get considerably better next season?
COACH DANTONIO: I personally think, although I've never done it here, that our quarterback needs to get hit in the spring. That's one aspect of our game that doesn't happen until we play games in the fall. I think that's something where things begin to break down around you, and you have to create. I think we need to do a better job doing that.
So I would say that aspect of it.
Then we need to change somewhat with the times, which will happen.
Q. Tom Izzo has been outspoken in his support of you and the program. I was curious if he's provided advice to you during the season and helped the program along the way?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we talk a lot. Tom has been extremely supportive. He's a good friend. Mark Hollis has been supportive, and President Simon as well, really everybody I talk to. You have to look at this as the glass is half full, it's not half empty. When we win Saturday, I'll say 'when', be a 6‑6 football team, we're not climbing out of the cellar 2‑10. I think everybody needs to understand that. We did lose a lot of close games.
Coach Izzo understands leadership, chemistry, games on the line, things of that nature. I also think that he understands the minute details in winning and losing, the attention to detail you have to have.
So he's been great, very supportive. He's a guy that I can call and talk to. There are other guys out there that I've talked to, as well, that I get a weekly call from, it seems like. They're my therapists (laughter).
You know, everybody has been good. Going back to Fred's question. No, I'm not frustrated. I get disappointed. My wife wants to know if I'm okay. I say, Hey, I'm okay, I'm just irritated. But I'm not over the hill. I think we treat our players as such and I have great faith in our players that we can execute and win, that we'll come ready to play.
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