As we all know, something happened at the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association clinic last Friday between MSU’s head coach Mark Dantonio and Michigan’s Recruiting Coordinator Jeff Hecklinski. We’ve seen a lot of speculation based on the limited amount of information available (including me). Neither athletic department has engaged this story, but the fans sure have. As we all know, MSU fans view this incident as Dantonio doing the right thing and standing up for the program. This incident just adds to the list of things for which Michigan fans dislike and don’t respect Dantonio. That is to be expected.
A mid-Michigan coach reached out to me and wanted to share what happened, from his perspective. I spent some time and researched this coach and can say with certainty that:
- He was in attendance at this event.
- He is a big-time University of Michigan fan (based on his own admission and on his twitter handle).
If you haven’t read it yet, an MSU fan in attendance gave his point of view here. So, I wanted to give some internet equal space to this point-of-view from the other side of the aisle. By the way, I reached out to the MSU Athletic Department for comment and none was given (no surprise there). But USA Today wrote a very balanced piece here.
What follows is from the – yes, anonymous – coach that was present for the MHSFCA clinic. He did not want his comments to affect his school or the recruitment of the athletes that he works with and so he wanted to remain anonymous. (I include here a picture, that he provided me, of information that came in the registration packet – hoping to help lend authenticity to this person’s statement of events).
The following text is from the coach, almost verbatim and edited only for typos and clarity:
The event took place at the Radisson Hotel. As for the conference in question on the event schedule it appears as follows:
Kickoff Session, conference room designation Arcadia 1
Speakers: Mark Dantonio (MSU), Jeff Heckilinski (UM), Jim Cole (ALMA), Jim Lyall (Sienna Heights), Paul Winters (Wayne State)
Title: ”Important Issues Facing High School Football and Recruiting.”
I put recruiting in bold because Dantonio was quoted as saying “I didn’t want it to turn into a recruiting pitch for them” or something to that effect. He also said he didn’t understand how the forum was going to work because it was their (the MSU staffs) first time. Which was a blatent lie. Dantonio gave his little spiel which didn’t really have anything to do with the title of the event either. It was mostly about Cousins, Cunningham, and their recent success which lasted about 15 minutes.
I arrived several minutes (estimate) into Dantonio’s speech. So I’m not sure how long he had been up there before I arrived, but it couldn’t have been that long because I wasn’t that late. I’m 100% sure no other coach spoke before him. The only person that spoke before him was the gentleman who introduced the coaches and talked a little bit about what the topic was. And that was the norm for the whole clinic whether it was single coach or multi-coach discussions. I can’t comment of anything that was said before I arrived. And I can’t remember the moderator’s name. No one ever gave a specific amount of time that each coach got to speak (that I heard), but I had assumed him and the Michigan coach would be given the same amount of time because they were obviously the two main attractions for us coaches in attendance (no disrespect to the other college coaches there but they were D2/D3 guys and we went to see UM/MSU coaches talk in that particular forum).
Besides Dantonio & Hecklinski, I would describe the other coaches’ opportunities to speak as more like panel members. Each of the other coaches were able to speak individually before the Q&A but obviously Dantonio & Hecklinski were given special considerations because they were the first two to speak. None of the other panel members were up front until after those two each got their own time to talk individually and give power point presentations/video presentations. That’s why I mentioned I thought it was absurd that Dantonio said he didn’t understand the forum because he and Hecklinski and every other coach who was a priority speaker in a conference had a power point/game film type of presentation as I mentioned earlier, so he was prepared. Anyways, the other coaches were brought up to the front (they were kind of up front but off to the side when Dantonio & Hecklinski spoke) and then they were allowed to talk individually but then it evolved into more of a panel discussion/round table type of thing like you said (after the incident, during Q&A, everyone kind of got a chance to give their opinion).
After Dantonio was done, Heckliniski began his speech which included a power point presentation talking about how important recruiting in-state was to their staff, and Dantonio stood up, cut him off mid sentence – in a large, silent conference room full of coaches – and said something to the effect of “Ok, let’s move on from this, how many coaches have guys in here going to a Big Ten school?” However, if you put what happened in context – each coach was provided an allotment of time. And each coach spoke to a certain effect of how important in state recruiting was to their program, and important issues facing High School football, etc (besides Dantonio, who mostly talked about Cousins, their success, some issues, etc.).
The looks on the faces of the other coaches on the panel were basically stunned silence as was the looks from the rest of the coaches in the room. Hecklinksi looked very embarrassed. His face turned instantly beat-red, and he sat down giving no comment to Dantonio’s outburst. So basically Dantonio interrupted his presentation, and embarrassed him in front of every relevant program in the state. Hecklinksi wasn’t even really giving a hardcore recruiting pitch either. It wasn’t anything to be upset about. And it did follow the guidelines of the title. The reaction and comments from various High School coaches for the rest of the clinic was basically that of shock. In context, it was very rude. It was basically one coach not liking what another had to say and cutting him off, literally. There were several other panel discussions in the clinic (however most were single coach/single topic style) and I’m sure many coaches didn’t like what other coaches were saying. But no one did anything even close to this, and many coaches got way off topic from the title of their lecture on the schedule (which is very easy given the nature of the sport). You can quote myself (and the general consensus of the coaches I spoke too, including our staff) as “it was very rude, and very unprofessional.”
I’m not sure if I would say Hecklinski was doing a “better job” – it was just different than what Dantonio did when he spoke. Dantonio’s speech was more geared toward their recent success/players where Hecklinski dove head first into the importance of recruiting in state, and their strategy. However, he did not get very far before he was interrupted. I had heard that Dantonio and the MSU staff was irritated because Michigan had a table right in the front of the lobby with brochures about camp and stuff and it was a little bit bigger and MSU’s was toward the back of the main lobby and a little smaller (the lobby at the Radisson was huge). He obviously isn’t a fan of Michigan in general. And I think part of it has to do with Michigan’s recruiting success this year in state grabbing 7 out of the top 10 recruits in the State (whereas MSU had success when Rich Rodriquez was Michigan’s coach in state because Rich Rod liked athletes from the “speed states”). I think he was basically irritated because, from his perspective, I think he felt like Michigan was still obviously the “Big Show” and they were more or less still “little brother”. And he obviously had a chip on his shoulder to begin with when it came to Michigan and I think that just boiled over.
In my opinion, though, I would say the Michigan “station” (if you want to call it that) being placed in front of MSU’s and being visible from the front door of the hotel where you had to walk around the side of the main escalator to see MSU’s “station,” had a lot to do with it. (MSU and Michigan were the only two schools with stations like that). So I’m 100% positive that bothered him from the get-go, and I’m 100% sure that probably set his mood. So the combination of those factors/impatience on Dantonio’s part led up to it, in my opinion.
Hecklinski couldn’t have been more than a few minutes into his speech, certainly less than 15 – and certainly shorter than Dantonio’s when he was interrupted (I admit I didn’t time it exactly). Dantonio wasn’t the moderator, and it wasn’t a panel discussion per-say at that point – it was more of a coach doing a presentation. So in my opinion he shouldn’t have – and had no place whatsoever – to interrupt. Like I said, I attended several conferences with multiple coaches and I’m sure not every coach always agreed with what every other coach was saying but these weren’t debates. You let a coach give a presentation then the next guy does his. That’s why everyone was so shocked, and the entire room was in stunned silence. Because at a professional conference like this you just don’t see a coach do that to another coach – it’s basically unheard of. It was really awkward for a couple minutes for everyone in there, especially Hecklinski who was very visibly embarrassed & angry. When I say his face turned beat red, it turned beat red. And everyone else in the room basically either looked shocked or had a “what the hell” look on their face. It was completely unprofessional. You just don’t do that.