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Thursday, October 28, 2010
Not buying Dantonio's trust-me decision

By Adam Rittenberg

A large part of Mark Dantonio's job is to get people to trust him.

To succeed as Michigan State's coach, he has to earn the trust of current players, recruits, parents, school administrators and fans, among others.

Dantonio asked for your trust when he reinstated senior cornerback Chris L. Rucker on Thursday, the same day Rucker was set to be released from jail after serving eight days for violating his probation. Michigan State issued a 434-word statement from Dantonio on Thursday night explaining the decision.

It reads in part:
"The poor decision [Rucker] made had need for serious consequences which he has now met and resolved from a team and legal perspective. It does not; however, rise to a lifetime banishment. Our decision to immediately reinstate Chris has been endorsed by the team's unity council and the program at-large. This was a difficult decision. After much soul searching and dialogue with those who are vested in the program, I am comfortable and confident in the decision I have made."

The coach could have been significantly more concise: I know my team better than you. I know my players better than you. I know the situation better than you. I'm not making this decision for you or anyone else outside the program. And I don't care if you don't like it or respect it.

I'm sure Rucker is happy. I'm sure the players are happy, especially since Dantonio amazingly put the decision largely in their hands. I'm sure a portion of Michigan State fans are happy.

The outside world will be outraged. That's just the way it goes.

You don't reinstate a player the same day he's released from jail once. You certainly don't do so again, after the first player totally burned you by getting busted for a second time. And you don't do it after talking about a zero-tolerance policy.

Let me make this clear: Chris L. Rucker is not Glenn Winston. Rucker's actions don't come close to what Winston did in his time at Michigan State. But no matter the circumstances surrounding Rucker's arrested, he was drinking, got cited and had to spend time in jail after reaching a plea agreement.

Rucker deserved to return to the team this season. But not this fast.

Dantonio comes off soft on discipline. He looks like a win-at-all-costs coach who puts standards aside before the nation's No. 5 team plays a huge game at Iowa. Michigan State looks like the Land of Second Chances, the program where you can wear a jumpsuit and a jersey in the same day.

From reading this statement, it's clear Dantonio doesn't care at all what the outside world thinks of him.
"I made this call, and I should be held accountable. I hold myself accountable. To some critics, it might be seen as a low-percentage call or the wrong decision. It is neither. To me, our coaches, and our entire team -- the men in the arena -- it was the right call for the right reasons."

Again, it's all about them. It's not about you.

What about the zero-tolerance policy Dantonio talked about regarding the players involved in the residence hall assault, including Rucker?
"We have no tolerance for Chris L. Rucker’s actions. I repeat, I have no tolerance for his actions. He was immediately suspended. He has served his civil punishment, and there are other internal disciplinary measures nobody will know about outside the program. Again, zero tolerance does not mean automatic dismissal. When I find something I cannot tolerate, my response is not found in some playbook. There is no call that fits all situations. Sometimes, the reason for calling a play -- either on or off the field -- is known only to those closest to the situation."

Again, Dantonio wants you to trust him.

Do you?