When Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio needs to chat about football strategy, he can get sound feedback from a variety of sources.
When he needs to chat about the pressures of the job, he turns to former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
Dantonio was on Tressel’s staff for five years at Youngstown State and then joined him at OSU as defensive coordinator, leading a unit that helped the Buckeyes win a national title in 2002.
“I talk to him just to settle me as a person,” Dantonio said before the Big Ten title game. “I listen to his advice. He doesn’t talk X’s and O’s. He talks to me more about how to handle situations.”
Asked what Tressel would think about seeing him face the Buckeyes for the league crown, Dantonio said: “I would like to think he’s sitting back and watching. I don’t know if he’s got (Michigan State) green on or not … but maybe.”
Even if Tressel’s allegiances kept him from rooting for the Spartans, he’ll likely have many more chances to pull for his protégé in big games. Dantonio has taken an underachieving program and transformed it into a perennial conference contender.
The Spartans won a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and played in the league championship here for the second time in three years Saturday night (the game ended too late for this edition).
They’ve notched 11 wins in three of the last four seasons. Before that, MSU’s only double-digit victory seasons came in 1966 and ’99.
Dantonio also has dominated the rivalry with Michigan, going 5-2 in his seven years.
“I think we’ve created a culture of winning. I think we created a culture academically as well. And I think we’re doing a good job off the field, keeping people out of trouble,” Dantonio said.
“We constantly critique what we’re doing and try to learn from our experiences. That’s how you grow. … And I think we’ve done that as a football team, done that as a staff, and I’ve done that as a coach.”
Dantonio’s staff has plenty of Buckeye ties. He made Jim Bollman, the OSU offensive line coach from 2001-11, his co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Bollman spent the 2012 season as the Boston College offensive line coach.
“I just can’t tell you how much it means to have him here because he’s like a brother to me,” Dantonio said. “We have a very close staff, but he gives you another guy, another person, that you’ve been through a lot of things with. He’s a foxhole guy. He’s been there with you through thick and thin. That means the world to us.”