Dantonio's Ties to OSU, Fickell, Adds Juice to Upcoming Game
By Brandon Castel
It should come as no surprise that Mark Dantonio knows Ohio State.
Long before he became the head coach at Michigan State, Dantonio was raised in East-Central Ohio, where he played football at Zanesville High School. He went on to play his college ball at the University of South Carolina, but much of Dantonio’s coaching career has been in someway linked to the Buckeye State.
MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio
The 55-year old got his start as a graduate assistant at Ohio University and eventually served in the same capacity alongside Jim Tressel at Ohio State under Earle Bruce in the early 1980s.
He and Tressel became fast friends and they have been linked ever since. Dantonio spent five season’s as Tressel’s defensive coordinator at Youngstown State and the two were reunited in Columbus when Tressel took the head coaching job in 2001.
At Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Dantonio called Tressel a “tragic hero,” but that doesn’t mean he has any plans to take it easy on the Buckeyes or new Head Coach Luke Fickell.
“I grew up down there, so it's got a little added incentive. I used to be there, so it's got added incentive,” Dantonio said Tuesday.
“You want to go back, you want to play well, you want to do the things that have to be done to try and make a statement.”
During his time in East Lansing, Dantonio has experienced some unprecedented success with the Spartans. He was the defensive backs coach under Nick Saban when Michigan State upset the top-ranked, and previously undefeated Buckeyes in Columbus.
As a head coach, Dantonio has led the Spartans to a 36-20 record in just over four seasons. That included a co-Big Ten championship last season, but one thing Dantonio has yet to do since taking over the program is defeat his former school.
“When you look at the program in general and you look at the future of the program, this is the only football team that we have not beaten in this conference in the four years that we've been here thus far,” Dantonio said.
“It's one thing that we haven't gotten done yet, so from a program standpoint it is important. You have to point towards those things and say, hey, we can beat anybody in this conference, and we can measure up against anybody in this conference. And that's been the goal here since we've come is to be able to measure up against anybody in this conference at any time.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans have not met on the gridiron since 2008, but the last time they were on the same field Beanie Wells demoralized them with 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Ohio State won that game 45-7 and they have outscored Dantonio 96-30 overall since he left the program after the 2003—that includes a 27-6 game against Cincinnati in 2004.
Through it all, Dantonio has always kept a great relationship with Tressel and his staff, including current OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell.
Photo by Dan Harker
“If there’s one person I’ve talked to as much as anybody it would be him,” Fickell said Tuesday during his weekly press luncheon.
“He’s probably the guy I’ve stayed most in contact with since he’s been gone. Probably because we’re more similar people in general. We’re family oriented guys.”
The 38-year old Fickell served as Ohio State’s special teams coordinator when Dantonio was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2001-03.
“A lot of what I’ve learned is from him,” Fickell said.
“Obviously I was with coach Tress for nine years, but probably spent a majority of my time in the three years Dantonio was here with him.”
When Fickell got the job at Ohio State back in May following Tressel’s resignation, one of the first calls he made was to his friend in East Lansing.
“I’ve learned more from him off the field as opposed to on the field,” he said.
“How you handle these situations and what’s really important.”
Dantonio was the one who told Fickell to make sure he took a vacation with his family before the start of the season—something he learned from his own experience as a head coach.
In many ways the two coaches have become like family, but that will only heighten the intensity of Saturday’s showdown in Columbus.
“If I was playing my brother, I would want to beat him just as bad as I would want to beat anyone,” Fickell said.
“When it’s all said and done, we’ll still continue to be great friends.”
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.