INTRO: After Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio stepped down suddenly last week, the Spartans embarked on a bumpy search for his replacement. When several candidates declined, MSU athletic director Bill Beekman doubled Colorado coach Mel Tucker’s salary, and got his man. But will it be worth it?
Last week Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio announced he was retiring. The news wasn’t surprising, but the timing was.
There were a lot of good reasons for Dantonio to step down – some positive, some negative. He had done just about everything he could do at Michigan State. He earned Big Ten’s Coach of the Year award twice, won three Big Ten titles, and beat arch-rival Michigan eight times. He brought the Spartans back to national prominence – and he did it by coaching up 2- and 3-star players into the athletes who could beat Michigan and Ohio State with 4- and 5-star talent.
On the other side, Dantonio is 63 years-old, he’s already had a heart attack, and he’s been sued by a former employee who can testify about Dantonio’s role in recruiting a player who has since been convicted of sexual assault, among other things.
Two months ago I predicted here that Dantonio would step down – but not before January 15th, when Michigan State would give him another $4.3 million dollars just for being the head coach that day. Some called it a “loyalty bonus,” but that proved a poor name for it.
A couple weeks after depositing that “loyalty bonus,” Dantonio announced his retirement, which sent Michigan State into a tailspin. The timing was horrible: weeks after the annual coaching job fair had ended, and a day before the recruiting season closed.
Worse, the man charged with replacing Dantonio, Michigan State’s current athletic director Bill Beekman, was uniquely unqualified for the job. The previous AD, Mark Hollis, had to resign in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal – no small thing, of course. But he was otherwise a highly regarded leader, on the short list of candidates to replace Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Hollis knew coaches, and coaches knew him. When Hollis resigned, Dantonio helped promote Beekman, the former secretary to the Board of Trustees, who had zero experience in athletics. But Beekman did have one quality Dantonio liked: he was not about to push back on anything Dantonio wanted, including his $4.3 million loyalty bonus.
Replacing Hollis with Beekman was convenient for Dantonio in the short-run, but cost Michigan State when it matters most: now. Beekman had absolutely no idea how to run a national coaching search.
This helps explainwhy every candidate Beekman sought to fill a very appealing position kept dropping out. They weren’t about to risk their careers on a place-holder AD who probably won’t be there in a few years – and shouldn’t be. Even former MSU defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, now Pitt’s head coach, gave Beekman’s offer about five seconds of consideration before declining. Most surprising was seeing University of Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, whom many reporters claimed had already accepted the job, turn down Beekman too.
Spartan Nation flew into full panic. But Michigan State still had a lot to offer, and plenty of good candidates who would jump at the job. They weren’t all big names, but big names aren’t always the best candidates. Some of the best coaches in college sports were considered virtual nobodies when they were hired – a list that includes Michigan’s Bo Schembechler in football, and State’s own Tom Izzo in basketball.
State had plenty such candidates to consider, including Eastern Michigan’s Chris Creighton, who’s done an amazing job at the historic “graveyard of coaches.” I believe he would have been better than any candidate left, and hungrier.
But I had little faith MSU’s fill-in AD Beekman would know how to find such candidates, or have the confidence to hire one. Instead Beekman hired Colorado head coach Mel Tucker – who had already turned Beekman down once, and with good reason. After all, Tucker had just finished his first year as head coach, winning just five games out of twelve. He had work to do.
But Beekman backed up the Brink’s truck, and offered to double Tucker’s salary, and his budget for assistant coaches. It worked. Tucker accepted, and Beekman was off the hook – even if State paid twice the market value for their new, unproven coach.
Perhaps it’s worth pointing out here that just because you pay a man five million dollars, doesn’t make him worth five million dollars.
Will Tucker succeed? Who knows? He has no experience, either.
Right now we know only one thing: Beekman’s ineptitude made Tucker a very rich man.
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OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!
We’ve had more than 30 events coast-to-coast, including two last week in Florida. This week: New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston! Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out johnubacon.com/events/.
I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.
Please follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/Johnubacon. A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.9K followers and growing.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!
We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.
Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:
The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in Postgame.com, Yahoo sport’s longform section.
The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed MGoBlog.com
The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.
INTERVIEWS AND STORIES:
REVIEWS AND STORIES
From Greg Dooley’s MVictors.com: “Punching Back.”
And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:
I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.
Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan.
Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!
Again, thanks for your support!