“I want the fan watching to feel like they are in the game.”
That’s what Mark Dantonio told our BTN crew in preparation for Saturday’s spring game. He (and MSU) didn’t disappoint.
Dantonio was mic’d up, I was allowed into the huddles, got a chance to listen on headset, and even call a play … (well, pass along a play from Gerry DiNardo…since it didn’t work, DiNardo gets all the blame…)
Speaking of DiNardo, he, along with some fellow BTN’ers tweeted these reactions: DiNardo: “Coach D does a great job using BTN to promote his program.” Rick Pizzo: “Just another example of why Coach D, MSU Football, and Mark Hollis just get it.” Mike Hall: “(Mark Dantonio) knows how to run an entertaining spring game…”
Of course anyone associated with the BTN brand is going to love that access. But MSU and Mark Dantonio did it to showcase his program to the fans. Saturday, Dantonio’s access turned a “pitcher’s duel” if you will — a defensive battle — into a watchable affair.
Spring games are sometimes not the most entertaining, and a lot of the “big names” are held out as precautions. In fact, one of the Spartan’s biggest attractions on the field Saturday was dressed in sweats — Jerel Worthy. He made a point of getting up at 7:30 AM to drive from Dayton to East Lansing, not even 12 hours had passed since he was drafted by the Packers.
MSU’s spring game is a destination for former players, and that’s no different than other schools. But it has become must-watch TV for fans, too. Antics like playing Draymond Green last year, and handing the ball off to Sparty for a running play this year, only help the entertainment.
Mark Dantonio is viewed as an intense, serious guy. But if you talk to the people who are around him the most: the players, the coaches, the support staff … they will tell you: “Coach is funny and he likes to have fun.”
It’s a much different take than his mostly stern and serious demeanor
at the podium. This MSU coach smiled and joked more in two hours on
Saturday than during an entire string of press conferences for a
season. Granted, the pressure meters are quite different during spring
“He loooooves Sparty,” one of his support staff members told me on the
sideline after Sparty energized the crowd with his impromptu
appearance. “Really?” I asked. “Oh yes,” was the response I got back,
“thinks he’s great,” as we watched Dantonio coach up Sparty on the
Talk to those who knew Mark Dantonio when he was an assistant at MSU
under Nick Saban. They will tell you he’s one who never sought out the
spotlight. Almost shy. Could barely ask his wife, Becky, out on a date
when they first met because he assumed she already had a boyfriend and
wouldn’t be interested. To this day, it’s more natural for him to seek
a corner at a gathering than center stage.
“I can’t be someone I’m not,” Dantonio once told me in a conversation.
As coaches learn how to BE head coaches, handle teams, handle pressure
and situations, they also slowly learn how to be in the spotlight. And
yes, how to handle the media. Mark Dantonio will be the first to admit
he is STILL learning.
But a big bravo to him and MSU for stepping outside the box on
Saturday…. so the fans can see parts of him, and his program, which we don’t always get
during the season.