MSU football: Mark Dantonio has done what Nick Saban couldn’t

In my Detroit Free Press column this week, I take a look at how Michigan State is handling its football success this time around as compared to 15 years ago. As always, my column starts here and ends at the Freep website.

On the heels of the news that Michigan State Football Head Coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants were given significant raises  to move them to the top tier of compensation in the Big Ten, I remembered back: the MSU football program had been here before, about 15 years ago… and were unable to sustain the success they had experienced.

It was late November 1999, I had just graduated from the Eli Broad College of Business in the spring and was toiling away at my not-so-spectacular first job out of college. Not only was everyone partying like it was 1999, nearly everyone was worried about Y2K.

On the football field, MSU had finished the regular season with a record of 9-2, the first nine-win Spartan team in 33 years. The Spartan football team, led by head coach Nick Saban, had just accepted an invitation to play in the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2000. Similar to this season, the ’99 Spartans boasted one of the best defensive units in the nation and were ranked #1 in the Big Ten in both rushing defense and total defense. They ranked #5 nationally in rushing defense and #11 in total defense and had defeated Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State all in the same year for the first time in 34 years.

Spartans everywhere were ecstatic, despite the fact that Michigan was certain to receive the at-large invitation to the BCS Bowl, even though the Wolverines had an identical record and had lost to MSU that year. Spartan Nation was busy making New Year’s Day reservations in a sunny climate, a glorious reprieve from the middling bowl games MSU had been in recently.

But the Spartans’ head coach would never make it there… Finish reading here





  • Michael Thelen

    Great article David. I did not know about the bonus disagreement at the end of the 1999 season. If you look at Saban’s next few recruiting classes , they were not very good so that shows he was struggling in the Big Ten. So was the 1999 team a fluke or did he coach them up?