Mark Dantonio Media Briefing
Spartan head coach addresses recent on-campus incident and suspensions.
Dec. 5, 2009
MARK DANTONIO MEDIA BRIEFING TRANSCRIPT
COACH DANTONIO: First of all thought, I would like to make a general statement about obviously where we are at with the program and everything. We'll take a couple questions at the end but not too many like usual, okay, but we will take some questions.
Obviously with the situation that happened last week, we're extremely disappointed. We talk all the time about our choices as people and about making the right choice. I think it's a very traumatic experience for this program, and we have got to be able to get past this situation.
Also, I think it's extremely devastating for the families that are involved in this. I've talked to every family that has been involved with this, and you know, a lot of people are reeling, so my heart goes out to those people for what they are going through, as well.
But in the end, I do believe that this will bring us closer as a football team, and it will give us strength. And we may not see that now, but I do believe that that will happen for our football team.
At this point, we are going to allow the investigation to continue and the process to take its course. I think that's very, very important. And we also must recognize that there's a lot of speculation out there from the public and a lot of different stories floating around and I think it's important that we get to the truth. I have always tried to speak the truth whenever I have spoken to you as a group or spoken in general and I think that's important.
I want to make a special statement to the Michigan State University Police. I really believe that they have acted very responsibly in this situation, and I personally respect and appreciate the way in which they have gone about this situation and handled our players that are in question, our program and the entire incident. I greatly respect that.
To me, bowl games are a reward. They are a reward for our football team, and they are a reward for our fans, as well. The opportunity to play on this football team and the opportunity to play in a bowl game is a privilege. It's not a right. It's not a given right.
With that said, all those present there at the incident in question will remain on indefinite suspension and will not make the trip, or play in the bowl game and that will be for obviously violating team rules at this point. We will know later as it continues on.
I realize that we are going to problems on a football team. When you have 105 players, a big staff, managers and trainers and all of the different people, we are going to have problems, some of the problems that exist in society today.
But in regards to this, our integrity will not be in question as a program, in terms of how we handle the problem. I think it's very important that we look at things and we handle this problem with strength and resolve and that's exactly what we will do. We are going to remain committed to helping our young people on and off the field, and we are going to remain committed to trying to do exactly the right thing in all situations.
Nearing New Year's Day, because I don't know what bowl game we are going to go to but there are three things we are going to get done.
No. 1, we are going to handle this situation and we are going to resolve it. After it's resolved, from a judicial standpoint, I will take action accordingly.
No. 2, we are going to represent ourselves off the field at that bowl game as we have in the last two bowl games. We have had no problems and we are going to treat people with respect and handle ourselves as gentlemen.
And No. 3, we are going to gain ourselves respect back as a football team and as a program, on and off the field. And it's my goal and my intention to win that football game and we will be extremely motivated to do that, as a program, coaches and players alike.
So we will close our ranks, and we will keep marching. I think it's extremely important that we understand that we will do this with strength and with resolve, as well.
In regards to where we are at right now, we had bowl practice today, and we had a great practice. We were out there for a minimum of two-and-a-half hours and we went live for 60 minutes or so to get our feet back up underneath us, trying to do the things that are necessary to win a football game. We had a very spirited practice and it was live for an hour of it. During the two and a half hour practice, we tried to catch the ball, tackle in space, play in space, pressure the quarterback, block movement, do you all of the things that you need to do to be successful on the football field.
I know this comes at a little bit of a unique time, but I think it's important that we understand that we do have some guys, because we have not had a press conference before, that we need to honor and we need to talk about. We had three guys named First-Team All-Big Ten, including the greatest field-goal kicker who has ever gone through here at the collegiate level, in Brett Swenson. In addition, Brett has accepted an invite to play in the Senior Bowl.
Blair White, who was named First-Team All-Big Ten and Academic All-American, will be playing in the East-West Shrine Game.
Greg Jones was selected First-Team All-American by the coaches' vote, First-Team All-Big Ten by the media and coaches, and then the (Big Ten) Defensive Player of the Year as far as media, so he's had an outstanding season.
And then Joel Nitchman earned Second-Team All-Big Ten. In addition to Blair White, there are 10 other members of the Spartans on the Academic All-Big Ten Team. And I think that speaks to the quality of people that we have on this football team, to the academics that are involved.
I want to make sure, even in this time of crisis, that we will honor our players. So we will go with that and I'll open it up for a couple of questions. I appreciate each of you guys coming today, and we will go from there.
Q. Can the suspended players watch bowl practice?
COACH DANTONIO: No. The players are suspended indefinitely and that means this entire building is off limits and anything that has to do with this football program, including their academic area. They are not to be in there at points in time when the rest of our football players are in there, including our training room.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think that there's going to be opportunities for younger players, obviously, and opportunities for players who haven't had a chance to play. When you look at our football team, we have lost a couple of players that are on that (suspended) list that are playing but the majority of our players are in place. That's the thing; 95 percent of our players are in place.
Q. Trying to personalize this, it's not about you, but in the last couple of weeks, did you feel betrayal and embarrassment?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's natural to feel a little bit of embarrassment. But you know, I don't feel betrayed, specifically. I don't want to use that word.
I feel like it's something that I have to deal with as a head football coach, and I feel strength, and I feel like as a leader, whether you're the leader at this university or a principal at a high school or a head football coach at this level, when in times of crisis, you'd better have somebody strong who is going to be able to lead and that's my place, and that's what I'll do and that's my role.
Q. Any other suspensions?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm going to allow the investigations to take place, and I'm not going to involve myself in that. I'm going to react to what's there. And when they give me things, then I'll react.
Q. Other people have said that the players have lied to you; can you confirm that they lied to you about being at the incident?
COACH DANTONIO: I really don't want to talk about that. I don't want to really talk about our players specifically. I will say that they needed to come forth sooner than they did, and I'll leave it at that.
Q. To be clear, the reason for the suspensions, was it where they were there or how they reacted afterward?
COACH DANTONIO: It was both. It was both, because they put themselves at risk by going there, and given the opportunity that they had to immediately come to me and tell me that there was a problem; it didn't happen. So it was two reasons, and either one, either one, is sufficient enough to be in this situation - to be suspended.
Q. Have you seen the video?
COACH DANTONIO: No.
Q. There's been a history at this institution of giving guys second chances, and in many cases - Muhsin Muhammad and Scott Skiles - they have proven to be very effective. Does this change your attitude at all about second chances in dealing with these cases?
COACH DANTONIO: No, it does not change my attitude in that way at all.
I'm a football coach at a major college institution, but in the pure sense of it, I'm a teacher, a mentor and someone who wants to try and take their players, help them play good football on that field and take their players and allow them to be self sufficient young men when they leave here, and that's growth. You have to grow. At this time of their lives when you come to a college or university, you have to become independent and you have choices to make, and options to make and temptations are out there. And you know, you are going to have to grow.
And even though these young men are in a difficult situation, it doesn't mean that I am going to abandon them, first of all. And second of all, I think that when they look back at this, at some point in their life, this will be a life lesson. It certainly should be, and I hope it's a life lesson for our entire football team, and I thought it was the last time.
Q. When you make the decision to suspend the player versus dismiss, does that mean that after a second chance, there are no more strikes?
COACH DANTONIO: Zero tolerance played into that decision. After being given a second opportunity, there is a zero tolerance policy; meaning that if there are any issues whatsoever, it's a done deal. And so those two will remain dismissed. There is no way to back in the door. They are done.
Q. Did you have any inkling before that there might have been any kind of an altercation and maybe guys looking for trouble?
COACH DANTONIO: No, there was no inkling. There was nothing. There was nothing there. And again, that's part of the disappointment because obviously, there was more than one person that knew about this, and this could have been easily prevented with just a little bit of a tug on the shoulder. It didn't have to be me, but they could have gone to anybody in our program. That's why when you go to the level of suspension for the others; this could easily have been prevented. It wasn't like we weren't meeting that day. We had a 3:30 p.m. team meeting. We also had a feel good banquet, to celebrate our football team and celebrate our seniors, so it's a disappointment (no one came forward).
But, I have been disappointed before. Our football program has been disappointed before, and we will rise above this. We always will.
Q. At any point, did you or the administration debate not playing in the bowl game? And do you think this activity will affect the bowl game's interest?
COACH DANTONIO: No, absolutely not. We have 95 players that did not do anything wrong. If I look at the guys who start for us, we have 19 starters intact, so there has never been any kind of doubt in that area.
And the second question?
Q. Do you think this activity will affect the whole bowl selection process?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope not. But wherever we go, and I think that we'll go, we have obviously earned the right to go. We have earned the right with six wins and a 4 4 conference record, and we have represented ourselves very well in our last two bowl games.
And if you check our track record, there have been no problems, none (in the last two bowl games). We have competed and played very well, and we have played very competitively in the past two games against two very good football teams.
COACH DANTONIO: No, but they are still in school. They have an opportunity and a right to do that. They are still in school this semester and will remain.
Q. From your end, do you consider revoking Glenn Winston's scholarship, kind of a process is involved?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that it's too early to do, and I think that the student-athlete has rights too. They have rights that are built in, and that's the way it should be, so I think that that we haven't crossed that bridge. And I don't intend to cross that bridge. That's a University matter, and I do believe that he has rights to be here, at least for the second semester, if that works for him.
Q. Mark, you said you talked to the people involved in this, people within the football family; have you had conversations outside the building with people who are purported to be victims or anyone else?
COACH DANTONIO: No. I'm not in the investigative business. I'm allowing our Michigan State University Police to do this. And as I said earlier, I think they have handled this program with respect. They have been very informative, and I think they have done an outstanding job. I think they haven't chased us down and chased ghosts. I think they have done an outstanding job.
Q. We have heard different stories about the players involved wearing ski masks; do you have any information about that?
COACH DANTONIO: I do not. I'm not in the investigative area. I think there are a lot of things out there, and when the truth comes out; I guess we'll know, because there are a lot of things that you hear.
But I'm not calling people in and saying - I just want to know were you there, and why. I mean, were you there because you're not supposed to be there, and why didn't you come forward earlier, if that's the case. Basically, the two reasons that I've suspended them . . . because they have been identified as being there, and also because eight days past or whatever (before coming forward).
As I said to our football team last week, I would describe this like it's like a hurricane. A hurricane blew in, and during Thanksgiving there was a little bit of the calm in the eye of the storm, and I told them, they had better brace up, because the end of the storm is pushing through this week and that's exactly where we are at with this thing. So hopefully, the sun is going to come out here soon, and we will be able to resolve this and we will be able to move forward.
But I thought it was important to come, sit and talk, because I think it's extremely important that our football fans and our players and our players families and everybody associated with this football program understand that we are going to deal with this from a position of strength. We are going to do the right thing, and our integrity will not be questioned in terms of how we handled this situation. That's where we are at.
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Statement from MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon:
"The confidence I had in Mark Dantonio when we hired him has been enhanced. During recent days I have seen his fairness and his resolve, his compassion and his discipline. His decision- making process is based on doing what is right in the long term, not what is expeditious or necessarily popular in the moment, for MSU, for Spartan football, and for student-athletes -- current and prospective -- and their families. I support Mark's integrity-based leadership; and I support his unwavering high standards that he will not allow to be put at risk."