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December 30, 2013

Mark Dantonio


THE MODERATOR:  I'd like to welcome Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.  If you would please make a brief opening statement.
MARK DANTONIO:  Exciting to be here.  Obviously we've been here for a number of days now, but our players are working very hard.  I think we have a great challenge versus Stanford on January 1, but it's a great opportunity for us, as I said earlier.
I'll take some questions.

Q.  Have you decided who will start at middle linebacker?
MARK DANTONIO:  Right now Darien Harris and Kyler Elsworth are the two guys that will play that position.  We'll probably go with Kyler initially, but they're both going to play.  We feel like we have a number of guys that can play different positions, so they'll insert in different areas as we move through the process of the game.

Q.  Will they have the same responsibilities that Max did as far as checking down on plays and‑‑
MARK DANTONIO:  Absolutely, yeah.  It's our system.  It's not one individual, it's our system.

Q.  Assuming that there was a culture change needed when you took over in 2007, could you take us back a bit to that first situation with the little guy Michael Hart from Michigan and how you responded to that when he talked about beating little brothers?  Was that your first step in changing the culture at Michigan State?
MARK DANTONIO:  No, that really has nothing to do with this today.  Next question, please.

Q.  A lot of time to get ready for this team.  I wonder how that helps and how that hurts a coaching staff because sometimes you may look at too much film when you have so many weeks to get ready.
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I was doing that this morning.  You tend to overanalyze sometimes.  The game is going to be played on the field.  I believe it's going to come down to the execution of what we do, the blocking, the tackling, the catching the football, all the little things that really make the game of football what it is.  There's a lot of things conceptually that you deal with, but at the same time the elements of football remain unchanged.  It'll be who does those things the best, especially in this football game because we are similar in a lot of respects.  We put an emphasis on the very basics of the game.
But I think you're right.

Q.  Pat Narduzzi comes from a coaching family and his dad and everything.  I was wondering how much who he is as a coach stems from who his dad was and being in that family?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think we all identify with our fathers in a lot of ways, and I think Pat especially does with his father.  He's a coach's kid, so he grew up different places, University of Kentucky, he talks about his childhood there a lot, and I think he's got‑‑ obviously his dad was a great role model for him.  So I think a lot of us feel like those who have fathers that have passed wish they could be experiencing this day with us.

Q.  Going off what he said, you and Stanford do play very similar types of games.  Is it tougher to prepare for a mirror image team to yourselves?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I think both football teams, they do what they do, but they have elements of spread, they have elements‑‑ they have trick plays, they have different things that we do.  So you just have to‑‑ so you've got to keep off balance, be kept off balance in those situations.  But at the same time I think that, no, is it easier?  No.  Is it harder?  No.  We just do what we do.  I think that's the basis of it.
You look at different people, their right guard is different than our right guard, that type of thing.  You look to see what they do best.  I think that's what you do as a football team.  What do they do best, how do you neutralize that and how do you move forward from there.
And then game starts to be played, and the flow of the game sort of takes over, and you sort of ‑‑ I think everybody has an idea and a plan when they go into a football game, and everybody's got a plan until they get hit, but then once things start to move forward you sort of begin to find your rhythm and probably return a little bit to who you are for the last 13 games.

Q.  Can you just talk about the evolution of your offense, and at what point of the season do you really feel like it was all in?  I know you tweak things every week, but as far as the identity when do you feel you struck the chord?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I feel the key to success is always continue to build, to improvise and make things better.  So we're constantly going to try and do that.  We're constantly going to look and see what we've done, what can we add, what things conceptually can we add on to make it more complex.  You want to stay simple but comprehensive, and by that I mean you want to have your simple elements of who you are but then become comprehensive so it looks like more than what it really is, and I think that's what people do, they window dress things.
The key to winning a football game from a coaching standpoint is to be able to evaluate that window dressing and adjust systematically throughout the process.

Q.  You don't tweet out a lot, but I noticed yesterday that you did tweet out a link to a video which was put together by the Spartan video crew.  What sort of emotions did that stir up in you?
MARK DANTONIO:  You know, I've always said that for us and probably for a lot of people, people see the product, they don't really see the process, and I wanted to take a step back and allow our players‑‑ we show the video to our players, and I thought that would be something to show to everybody out there who followed.
I wanted to make sure that we acknowledged the presence of those people who have made a difference here.  So many different players have.  So when you saw a picture of Javon Ringer running the football, to me I hope everybody felt a part of that, everybody who was on that football team felt a part of that, or a Kirk Cousins photo or whoever the case was.  So we tried to put as many guys in there as we could, and I just appreciate all that they've done, all the work that they have done as we got to this point.  They might not share in this physically, but they're going to share in this and be able to identify with what we do, been a part of the process.

Q.  You've been answering questions about the Rose Bowl since the night of December 7th.  You've been doing this for five days.  Are you tired of answering questions and are you ready to play the game?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think that it gets to that point.  It gets to that point where you're done talking and you're just ready to play, and I think we're at that point as a football team.  How many more times can you practice the power which they run, how many more times can we do what we do against their defense we should know what to do.
Again, it comes down to basic elements.  You have to do things better than they do, inevitably.  You're not going to trick them the whole game, neither team.  You're going to have to play.  That's the beauty of football.  I think that happens in every football game.

Q.  This question might delve into game planning, but a lot of teams that played Stanford were very reluctant to kickoff to Ty Montgomery because he's so dangerous.  What will be your approach?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, that's a game plan type thing, but we're not going to shy away from contact.

Q.  You talked about Kyler and how he'll probably get the nod here at the beginning of the game.  Can you just talk about him and his journey, and he walked on for you, supposed to be a wrestler, that whole deal, and now it's ending for him here at the Rose Bowl, kind of a perfect ending for him?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, Kyler is quite a young man.  He's had some very, very big plays for us throughout the years, first of all.  He's a guy that walked into my office at 185 pounds having wrestled that year, 185, he's 103 and 2 as a wrestler, maybe better than that, but I think he only lost twice in his career.  But a guy that immediately assumed a position on our special teams, had a big block against Wisconsin in the game in 2011, but he's had some huge plays for us throughout the years.
But now he's 230 pounds, he's a 400‑pound bench press guy or very near it.  He runs extremely well.  He was a wide receiver in high school so he's got great ball skills and he's got very good athletic ability, can slip blocks.  He's a very good football player, and he's tough.
Darien Harris, another guy that's very, very athletic, was a tailback in high school, again, another guy that's extremely strong.  Ken Mannie has done a great job in the weight room with him, as well.
We've got guys‑‑ linebacker has been a position of strength for us all year long.  These guys have played a lot of football for us all year, so they're going to get an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl and be starters, or have a huge impact on the game if they're not starting.

Q.  When you first got to Michigan State, you probably answered this question before, but I just got here, you promised the players that one day they will be walking on rose petals.  You told players that, you told recruits that.  Has it sunk in that you've fulfilled that promise yet?
MARK DANTONIO:  A little bit of it has.  Not totally.  I don't think totally it has because it's been so‑‑ we're here and we're here for four, five or eight days, whatever it is, but it goes so fast.  You're just sort of on task with what you're doing.  You're going from thing to thing, but I think after the season is over maybe it'll sink in a little bit.  I think it's sunk into some recruits.  I think it's sunk into our players a little bit.  For the coaches we're sort of riding right now.
But I do think that it's a goal that we've had.  Now we need to continue on on that goal.  One of the goals that we had was winning our bowl game.  That's always been a big goal of ours.  So I don't care which bowl game you're in, you need to try and find a way to win it.  That sort of finishes your season, sort of completes the circle for me for the 2013 season, so it's important that we try and take that step.

Q.  You've been pretty consistent with your approach at Michigan State.  What's been the separator or the difference for this particular Michigan State team for it to make it to the Rose Bowl whereas maybe the past ones have fallen just short?
MARK DANTONIO:  We have always had great chemistry on our football teams.  At some point in time you start believing in all aspects of your game, your punting game, your kicking game, and I think that's what's happened to us.  Our offense has really come on since September.  We started developing our wide receivers.  You look at every aspect of our football team and you've got guys that are sort of over achieving I guess is what I would say, which I've always talked about, I don't care what level of a player you are, you'd better overachieve because that's the only way you're going to be able to be successful.  I think that's what we have.
You look at every element of our football team right now, whether it's the wide receiver, the quarterback, the tight end, the offensive line, the running back, where were they in September?  You look at our defense, obviously we've had a great defense the past couple years, but have we done better than we did last year?  Probably we have.
Our punter, our kicker, and that's the kind of football team we've had.
I hope people think of it as that, the guy that comes in and works extremely hard and accomplishes great things because of their work ethic.
I've also said if you're going to have a great football team, your senior class probably has to have their best season yet, and I think the majority of our seniors have had their greatest season.

Q.  There's a perception that some Big Ten teams view the Rose Bowl as kind of the end point.  Did you have to talk to your guys about not just being happy to be here, that there is another step to be taken against a tough team?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think that comes with being a competitor.  Our guys have handled this week very, very well.  We've not had issues with curfews and things of that nature.  We've tried to keep things relatively low key for them.
But the biggest thing, and I've said it before yesterday, whatever, we've got to be able to handle success and move forward from here.  Stanford has been in this football game before, they've been in BCS games before, so they've played in this type of environment with this type of media coverage, etcetera.  Our guys, we're sort of on a new threshold here.
So it's important we play and make sure that people understand that we belong, and that's a big risk saying that right now.  I understand that.  But you need to step out there and dream big.  Our dreams didn't end with a championship and coming to the Rose Bowl.  We wanted to win it, and that's our intentions.

Q.  Can you highlight maybe some highlights of the past couple days and speak about how you see the mindset of this team leading up to this game?  Does it differ than how you see them leading up to any regular season game?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, we got here and we walked in the hotel and we saw really just the downtown LA, really, and I think that excited everybody.  Going to Disney, going to the first day of practice, Disneyland, seeing our players riding rides and doing those type of things, shooting baskets with them at ESPN GameZone or whatever the case is.
Just saw our players excited about being here.
The Beef Bowl, practices again, the different things that they've been involved in, media day yesterday I thought was exciting for a lot of our players, a lot of media, a lot of attention.  So all those things were big things for us and positive.
Like I said, it's going very fast.  Sometimes it's going slow and then all of a sudden it just speeds up for us, and the next thing you know the day is over.

Q.  I just noticed the Rose Bowl trophy over there shining, surrounded by roses.  When you walked in did you glance at it or are you like the hockey guys with the Stanley Cup and until you touch it you don't want anything to do with it?
MARK DANTONIO:  No, I glanced at it.

Q.  Your thoughts?
MARK DANTONIO:  My thoughts?  Looks nice over there.  Like everybody else, shining bright.
But I think the trophy is just like the Big Ten trophy, which is like Paul Bunyan.  The trophy is an example of what we have done, but you yourself, you know inside of you what you've done.  We don't need a trophy to carry around with us if we've done some of the things we've been able to accomplish this year.  You know what you've done, and you're going to have to live with that one way or the other.  One way or the other we'll have to live with what happens on Wednesday.

Q.  I know you've talked in the past about Andrew Maxwell's potential to be an NFL quarterback after this season.  Can you talk a little bit about what his journey has been like this year, his future, and then also do you have any plans for him for this game at all?
MARK DANTONIO:  Andrew has been a great example to me in terms of how to handle adversity, takes an incredibly strong person to be able to go through what he's had to go through and endure.  Started 13 games for us last year, was successful at times, had struggles at times, but not all his struggles.  Had to take a step back and compete for the position, and then ultimately give up the position.  So it's been tough, and he could have made things difficult here, but he chose this path over here, and that path has allowed us to sort of flourish as a football team.
He'll play as the situation dictates relative to what's going on on the football field just like any other backup quarterback would.  We're not going to just insert him into the football game just to insert him.  I think you earn those things.  I don't think anybody wants to be given anything.
But as far as his future, he's going to be an outstanding representative of Michigan State in whatever capacity he chooses to move through in his life.  He's an excellent student.  He's graduated.  He's got so many different things going for him as a person and a player, so I guess the future is a little bit in question as to what he does just like it is for all of us.  I can just tell you that at the end of it all when you take off that jersey, you want to take it off as a winner, but also when you take off that jersey you know that the next step in your life is a little bit cloudy, a little bit gray for all of us, but he's going to be extremely successful.  I wish him the best.

Q.  You stated that this is relatively new for you guys.  How do you balance out the fun aspect of this along with the business part, and is there someone you should talk to?  Do you talk to Izzo, how did he handle the Final Fours?  How do you balance this?
MARK DANTONIO:  Last year I rode a horse to practice.  I don't know if I can do that this year, but you try and do little things that are going to make it exciting and fun for your guys that are sort of out of whack, I think.  I think we do those type of things, may sit up here with a stare sometimes, but we don't take ourselves all that seriously at times, we really don't.  I think football has got to be played with enthusiasm and our players got to have fun doing it.  So we're going to make sure on game day when we walk into that Rose Bowl that we live a moment and we remember that moment.  We're going to do that as much as we can in these last couple days here, and then we're going to get on with it.
It's a part of our life, it'll always be a part of our life now, and that's going to be the exciting thing, we're going to be able to look back on that, but we're going to have memories on the game.  I don't know how do you; I guess you just roll with it, I don't know.

Q.  There's been a lot of conversation about the Big Ten strength this season could only be fairly evaluated by what happens in the bowl games.  After what's happened so far does that put more emphasis on Michigan State and Ohio State and the BCS and how the Big Ten compares with other conferences?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think there's a general perception out there that it's conference versus conference all the time.  You play these games individually.  There's a lot of things that happen in a football game across conferences every year that dictate winning and losing within the conference.  Same thing happens in bowl games.  You've got to be prepared.  You've got to take care of the football.  All the things that are critical to winning, which I talked about to our players yesterday.  The things that are critical to winning:  Do you give up a lot of sacks, what do you do with the ball in terms of when you run it, all these type of things, execution.
So do I feel any more pressure because the Big Ten has lost two games?  No, I don't feel any more pressure.  Pressure is what you put on yourself.  We're not going to stress about it like I said.  We're going to play our game and we're going to play for Michigan State and we're going to represent the Big Ten Conference in that aspect.  But in the end it's going to be Michigan State's deal.  It's not going to be‑‑ we represent the Big Ten, we carry the banner of the Big Ten in here, but in the end it's going to be Michigan State wins or loses, period.  That's how it is.  We're going to have to stand alone on that one, what we do.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach, thanks so much.

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