College Football Playoffs Up Close: Mark Dantonio, Christian Head Coach Of Michigan State Spartans

( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2015 12:04 PM EST
Roman Catholic Mark Dantonio has the Michigan State Spartans in the College Football Playoffs for the first time.
Michigan State Head Coach with his team, December 1, 2015. Smithsonian92

The second 2015 College Football Playoffs are just days away and with three out of the four teams making their debut in the format, the head coaches have their work cut out for them. Keeping players focused, handling increased media scrutiny, and managing lofty expectations are all par for the course.  

Leading up to New Year's Day, the Gospel Herald is taking a look at all four head coaches in an effort to learn more about each man's character and personality as they lead the young men in their charge toward a possible national championship. We've already learned a little about Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and Oklahoma Sooners head coach, Bob Stoops. Today our focus is on Mark Dantonio, the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. 

Mark Dantonio
Head Coach, Michigan State
Record 87-32 at MSU, 105-49 overall 

Of the four head coaches leading teams in the 2015 College Football Playoffs, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is perhaps the least well-known of the bunch. The 59-year-old from Zanesville, Ohio, took over in East Lansing in 2007, tasked with rebuilding a football program whose last bowl win was the 2003 Alama Bowl. 

For all intents and purposes, Dantonio's tenure at Michigan State has been wildly successful. In 2010, Dantonio coached the Spartans to 11-2 record a share of the Big 10 Championship, the program's first conference title since 1990. Michigan State won the conference championship outright in 2013 and the current season, en route to 4 seed in the College Football Playoffs. 

Despite the success in the regular season, the postseason has been streaky for Dantonio. From 2007-2010, the Spartans lost four-straight bowl games, including a 49-7 spanking in the 2011 Capital One Bowl to Alabama, Michigan State's opponent in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday. Dantonio has led the Spartans to victory in their last four bowl games, finishing the 2014 season with a 42-41 win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. He also led Michigan State to its first Rose Bowl in 26 years, a 24-20 defeat over Stanford on New Year's day 2014. 

Dantonio was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family and lives his life based on those Christian principles. His faith and devotion to Christ are an important part of his coaching philosophy. Dantonio spoke openly about his faith in a 2013 interview with USA Today, saying his Christian walk is reflected in his role as a coach, recruiter, and mentor. "You can talk about your faith, or you can live your faith," he said. "You can talk about this program's culture, or you can be in this culture, live this culture," Dantonio said. "There's a difference there. Is it smoke or is it real?"

Dantonio quotes scripture often around his players and expresses his faith while on the recruiting trail. Former defensive end Marcus Rush told the USA Today that Dantonio's bold witness was a major factor in his decision to play football at Michigan State. "It was a big factor for me," Rush said. "I think it gives recruits and their parents confidence that he's actually a legit, good guy. You can tell he's not just throwing it out there."

Dantonio married his wife, Becky, in 1990 and the couple has two daughters, Kristen, and Lauren. In 2010, Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack and a blood clot in his leg early in the season. His first game back on the sidelines following the health scare came on October 9, a 34-17 win over arch rival Michigan. 

The Michigan State Spartans face #2 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, December 31.  

Tags : College Bowl Playoff, college football, Michigan State Spartans, Mark Dantonio, Sports, football