The weekend of the NFL draft is moving to a head coach. Whether the impact is felt ONLY on his program from a recruiting angle at worst, or because he is genuinely close to his players as Dantonio is. You see some young people who reach their dreams and others who watch them slip away.
Earlier this week in a Spartan Nation exclusive, first round draft pick Jack Conklin had this to say about Mark Dantonio is head coach at Michigan State.
“I believe that Coach Dantonio is the greatest coach in college football right now. I think it all comes down to his character and how he runs his program. I can’t even find words to say how lucky I was to be part of this program. Coming from being a walk on kid that didn’t have a place, and coach D found me and gave me this chance. He really believed in me to develop me and to help me do just that. Coming from a background like I did with my dad being my head coach, I’ve never been a guy that has been the mind games or tricks from coaches. When coaches tell me what they want, what they expect from me and what they think I can do that is what I am going to go after. I am going to go after it and I am going to get it. That is the mentality that I have. It isn’t cocky; it is just the mentality that I have. This is what this person expects from me and that is what this person wants. In the way of Coach D, he gave me this chance and it was my job to run with it, not to let him down and prove to him that he made the right choice. That is just how I think about things.”
So tonight as I was talking with Mark Dantonio, I asked him to comment on Conklin’s kind words. As you can imagine he was moved. “Yeah, you know, Jack is a special guy. All of our players, I keep saying this over and over, we have won here because of the relationships that we have with each other. I don’t think you can understate that fact. It brings energy to our meeting rooms, to our team meeting rooms and to the field, and it brings a sense of accountability to each other. As I said earlier, Jack is just a very thoughtful person. He’s an extremely kind person off the field. You know, then he steps on the field and he does exactly what you try and ask him to do to the best of his ability, and he’s got raw talent.”
He went on to elaborate saying, “As time went on, you saw him as a redshirt freshman. You knew he was going to be something special. He’s played a lot of winning football for us, and he’s really — you go back and you look at his redshirt freshman year, Rose Bowl; redshirt sophomore year, Cotton Bowl; this last year, another Cotton Bowl, playoff, two Big Ten Championships. These guys are all largely responsible for that aspect.”
Finally a touched Dantonio added about the praise from his young star, “Yeah, it’s humbling that he says that about his head coach.”
That is what has made Dantonio successful. While some coaches are only about football, he takes time to build men. To build a program more about people than anything else has been a staple of the Dantonio doctrine.
Walking in to Mark Dantonio’s office to tell him that he was leaving early for the NFL was difficult for Conklin. He respects his coach; he loves his coach and didn’t want to disappoint him. He didn’t, but Mark Dantonio talked about that moment on Conklin.
“I think it was difficult for him to walk in and talk to us about him leaving. I think he did a good job with that. He waited until after the bowl game. You know, you could tell it was wearing on him. It was weighing on him a little bit in terms of how he was going to have to do this. I think he did it in a professional manner. Everything Jack Conklin has done has been in a professional manner. He’s a tremendous young person. He’s been a great student. He’s been a great football player. He’s been a great worker. He’s got great toughness. He’s extremely athletic. But that was very difficult, I think, for him to do because he’s very connected to our football team.”
He went on say, “And then secondly, how he’s developed as a player, I mean, it’s just — this guy came here as a preferred walk-on, and here he is the eighth pick of the 2016 draft. As far as going to the Titans, I think that everything that — everybody who came in to talk to us about Jack Conklin said great things about him. It’s not surprising at all to see him move up in the draft. He has no baggage as a person, and you’re going to get a great worker and a guy that’s going to make other people around him better, and he’s going to play for a long time.”
Finally Dantonio said it best, simply saying, “I’m very, very proud of him.” Well said coach. Well said indeed!