I’m telling you, I don’t know what’s happened to football coaches names anymore. They’ve gone and gotten themselves called things like Mike and John and Pat and Mark and Rich.

Pshaw!

Don’t they know that properly-named football coaches answer to Knute and Bo and Woody and Bear? Or Biggie and Duffy?

Certainly not Darryl.

Thirty years ago, there was a Darryl in our midst; twenty years ago, he faded away, and mercifully so.

But Darryl Rogers made a mark around these parts. Better put that more often than not, he left a mark.

Duffy was gone in 1978 – Duffy Daugherty, that is, the head football coach at Michigan State University. He retired in 1972 and gave way to the kind but bland Denny Stolz. The lineage went Munn to Daugherty to Stolz: Biggie to Duffy to Denny. Not a Mike or John or Pat in the group.

After Denny proved mostly ineffective – including managing to get the football program placed on probation – he was swept out the door and this dude from small California schools like Fresno and San Jose State came eastward to coach the Spartans: Darryl Rogers.

No one knew much about Darryl. Quickly, though, it was evident that a physical quirk forced him to talk out of one side of his mouth, literally. Eventually, we’d discover that a character flaw meant that he talked out of both sides, figuratively. But I digress.

Rogers came to East Lansing in 1976 and coached two mostly bland years. Then the Spartans came alive in 1978. One of their stars was a bombastic, caustic receiver who also was pretty good at baseball: Kirk Gibson.

Yet the Spartans were still losing football games again when the 1978 season began. Ready or not, they were on a collision course with their in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, for a tilt in mid-October. The game would be played in Ann Arbor. The usual posturing began as the game drew nearer. Then Darryl opened the good side of his mouth and called the folks from U-M “arrogant asses.” Not that he was lying or anything.

The comment caused a low boil on Michigan’s campus, which grew to a rolling one as Saturday approached. The Wolverine faithful – the folks that Rogers had called, in so many words, over-confident posteriors – couldn’t wait to see what their team would do to MSU. The Spartans were annual victims to the Wolverines. They were beaten down by U-M in Rogers’s first two seasons. And MSU was 1-3 in ‘78 when Rogers made the remark. The series had taken on an almost Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals persona.

Rogers led his Generals/Spartans into Michigan Stadium, fresh off losses to big-time football programs USC and Notre Dame. Over 101,000 over-confidents sat on their posteriors, waiting for the slaughter.

Except that when the day was done, the Spartans/Generals had whipped Bo Schembechler’s boys, 24-15. In Ann Arbor.

Rogers: Hard to tell if he’s packing or unpacking

Rogers’s team kept right on winning. They wouldn’t lose another game all season, in fact, speeding to the finish line with an 8-3 record, including 7-1 in the Big Ten – co-champions of the conference with … Michigan! But because of Denny Stolz’s little probation, the Spartans were banned from appearing in the national polls or any bowl game. Despite knowing there wasn’t any carrot at the end of the stick, MSU still kicked everyone’s ass in the Big Ten – including the arrogant ones from Michigan.

The Spartans faltered in 1979, and that’s when Darryl Rogers revealed that he could, indeed, talk out of both sides of his mouth after all. Rumors started to swirl that Rogers, after a few seasons in the Midwest, was itching to get back to the Pacific time zone. Arizona State University was courting him. It was reported.

Rogers said no. He kept saying no. Right up to the moment, almost, that he hopped a plane for Arizona and was introduced as ASU’s new coach. It was behavior that would be repeated five years later, when he would deny to the ASU folks that he was about to bolt to the NFL to coach the Detroit Lions. He pulled the same stunt – managing to work both sides of his crooked mouth before ending up in Pontiac, hours after denying that he would coach the Lions.

Michigan State has a great opportunity this Saturday to kick some over-confident posterior, when said rear ends are down and out. The 6-2 Spartans will invade Ann Arbor to play around with the 2-5 and almost-1-6 Wolverines. This time, MSU is Harlem and U-M is Washington. Or so you would think.

Two things are certain in October in this state: the leaves fall, and so do the Spartans. It’s becoming an annual tradition: MSU starts fast, then fades. They raise hopes, then crush them. This year, a 6-1 start turned sour when the Ohio State University barged into Spartan Stadium and manhandled the Spartans, 45-7. That loss had a familiar odor to it: that of impending doom.

Michigan’s program is down. They haven’t even been able to handle the likes of a mediocre MAC school, Toledo, in their own Big House. Penn State toyed with them before racing away like a gazelle. This is, by far, the worst Michigan team that MSU has played in decades.

Yet it won’t surprise too many people if the Spartans lose Saturday – not true football historians, anyway. MSU has perfected the art of spoiling promising seasons for themselves.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is a nice man, by all appearances. Definitely not one to create bulletin board fodder with accusations of being arrogant or posteriors. Or both. He’s smarter than to think his team has this one in the bag, even if they do.

Besides, his name is Mark and his counterpart is named Rich. That’s not a rivalry, that’s a business lunch.

Let’s see if the Spartans belch it back up, once again.

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