Mark Dantonio attributes much of his success at both Cincinnati and Michigan State to staff continuity, as he has been able to keep his assistants together. But for the first time in his Michigan State tenure, Dantonio had to replace an assistant after running backs coach Dan Enos left in January for the top job at Central Michigan. Dantonio settled on Brad Salem, a former MSU graduate assistant who spent the last five years as head coach at Division II Augustana College in South Dakota. Salem will oversee a running back group led by talented sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker, but a group that loses several players from 2009.
I had the chance to catch up with Salem on Wednesday as he settled into his new job.
I know you had some ties to coach Dantonio. Are there a lot of familiar faces at Michigan State from your first stint there?
Brad Salem: Yeah, absolutely. That's the neat part. A lot of the support staff were here when I was here before, so there's obviously comfort in that, the people that take care of you.
What's the biggest adjustment from being a head coach in D-II to a position coach at this level?
Salem: It's the dynamics of being in charge of 100 guys [at Augustana] to a position coach, where there's anywhere from eight to 12, depending on what you recruit. I'm excited about the change, from the aspect of you get to focus on those guys. You almost get back a little bit more into the coaching role, the technique and the fundamentals of coaching a position.
Was it your goal to get back to the FBS level?
Salem: As an opportunity, it's something you can't pass up. I was very fortunate to be a head coach at a young age and follow in the footsteps of my dad. My father was a coach for 22 years. One of the things in coaching is you can't control the dynamics of where you go and when. That's what you understand. That process is out of your hands, so when opportunities like this present themselves, you get very excited to come back to a place you were 15 years ago. Knowing coach Dantonio and what he stands for, it's great to be a part of that, to be a part of something special.
How much did you work with the running game and specifically the running backs at Augustana?
Salem: As a head coach, I jumped around to different positions. I was on the offensive side, calling plays, so wherever there was a need, whether it was running backs, QBs or receivers, I was piecing it all together and coaching young coaches and teaching them those positions. You're familiar with [running back], absolutely, as one of the skill positions on offense.
How familiar are you with the running backs at Michigan State? Have you had a chance to look at tape or talk to them?
Salem: Yeah, I had the chance to meet them and watch them in workouts, doing the offseason stuff, and just seeing the cutups and seeing what their ability is. You've got two real special kids [Caper and Baker], and to get experience in the Big Ten as a freshman, there's a lot of value in it. They're going to just continue to grow as you go through spring ball and jump into the fall.
What are your early impressions of those two, Caper and Baker?
Salem: They can definitely be special backs. They both have unique styles, a little bit different from one another. But the great thing is, just getting to know them a little bit, is there's really a unique relationship. Very competitive, but they're even going to room [together] next year, and they're guys who understand being part of a team and part of a family. By size, Larry is a bigger guy, powerful, very good hands coming out of the backfield. There's maybe a little more quickness with Edwin, but you've got to watch a little bit more and study them. I'll find out more about that as we go through the spring.
Salem: For spring, we're sitting pretty good. We've got some real solid guys at the fullback position, and then we've got the two early entry kids, Nick Hill and Leveon Bell. So those two incoming freshmen are here right now, so it gives us at least four tailbacks. Numbers are not the issue at my position, which is nice.
From a recruiting standpoint, you're replacing Dan, who was a great recruiter and really helped Michigan State. How has it been with recruiting and reconnecting in that area?
Salem: As a head coach, you're closing the deal and overseeing the whole process, recruiting the Midwest in that respect. Recruiting is the No. 1 issue with any program, and you've got to be able to do that and be successful because it's the kids that you get in your program. The approach here is it's very much a team-oriented recruiting process with the regional coach and then the position coach and then obviously the head coach to close the deal. So you fit in as we divide up areas. But I'm really excited to get going in the recruiting aspect of this job.
Have you talked about which regions you'll recruit?
Salem: We're just dividing up now. Each of us will get a piece of Michigan and then a secondary area. We're still trying to figure out where that'll be in the Midwest. You've just got to capture these kids in the region first. That's the priority. And you go from there. I'm touching base, e-mailing, calling the local guys right now, just so they see who I am.