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Spartans aim to lock up Mark Dantonio

10/8/2011

If Michigan State has its way, Mark Dantonio will be the school's football coach for a long, long time.

The Spartans rewarded Dantonio with a new contract on Saturday -- a five-year rollover deal that increases his annual compensation from $1.8 million to $1.83 million. It's not about money as much as showing loyalty to the 2010 Big Ten Coach of the Year, who led the program to an 11-2 record and share of the league title last year. Michigan State hopes this will make Dantonio a "Spartan for life" in much the same way that basketball coach Tom Izzo has become a campus institution. Dantonio even has a job waiting for him in the athletic department for two years after he retires from coaching, and he'll get a $2 million bonus in 2014.

The new contract comes at a great time, as Dantonio just guided the Spartans to their first win at Ohio State since 1998 with a 10-7 victory. He'll now be armed with his new deal heading into next week's rivalry showdown with Michigan, and he can use this news to his advantage while checking in on some recruits during this week's bye.

Dantonio has certainly earned his keep with a 37-20 record in East Lansing and three straight wins over the Wolverines. Last year's Big Ten title was the program's first since 1990, and the Spartans look like they will contend in the Legends Division this season.

Now let's talk about the elephant in the room.

The reality is that Ohio State will very likely be looking for a new head coach at the end of the season, given the way the Buckeyes have struggled in Luke Fickell's first -- and only contractually obligated -- year so far. Dantonio, of course, has strong ties to Ohio State and Jim Tressel, being a former assistant under Tressel at Youngstown State and an ex-Buckeyes defensive coordinator. While Dantonio may not be at the very top of Ohio State's wish list, he would definitely be among the first names mentioned, and his success in recruiting good players out of Ohio can't be overlooked.

The only real knock on Dantonio from a Buckeyes perspective may be his ties to Tressel, if Ohio State decides for a clean break from the past. But if the school decided to pursue Dantonio, then it could offer a whole lot more money than the $1.83 million Michigan State is paying him. Tressel was making about $3.5 million a year in total compensation when he resigned under pressure on Memorial Day. The Spartans also restructured Dantonio's buyout, and while terms weren't disclosed, the buyout is believed to be around $3.5 million. Which, again, Ohio State can afford.

But Dantonio knows he's got a good situation at Michigan State and a boss in athletic director Mark Hollis who will be loyal to him. This is the Spartans' attempt of cutting off potential suitors like Ohio State before they even come calling. This new contract doesn't rule out Dantonio leaving, but it gives him the opportunity to be Michigan State's man for a long, long time.