What happened to MSU football coach Mark Dantonio was sobering, but about as surprising as tomorrow’s sunrise. What should be causing chin rubbing and head scratching is why this doesn’t happen more often.
The heart attack that Dantonio suffered following Saturday’s thrilling victory over Notre Dame—ANY victory over Notre Dame is thrilling in my book—has brought coaches to their public all over the country, mainly in the form of their weekly press conferences.
They’ve all said the same thing, basically.
They’ve offered their best wishes for Dantonio and his family. They’ve acknowledged that this is a tough business that they’re in, and full of pressure. They don’t deny that they could be the next victim, though they hope not, of course.
Then they’ve gone back to their 18-hour days and sleeping on the couch in their office and watching film until they’re bleary-eyed.
The head football coach at the college and pro levels is like the race car driver. No matter how many of their brethren are struck down, they’re right back at it the following weekend.
I’m grateful but amazed that this doesn’t happen more often. Coaches in football and basketball, especially, drive themselves bonkers. Train your eyes on the basketball coach next time you’re at a game. Watch nothing else. You’ll be witness to a series of tantrums that would put a two-year-old to shame.
How more of them don’t keel over is a wonder.
Not long after Northwestern football coach Randy Walker tragically passed away in 2006, I was on the phone with then-MSU coach John L. Smith.
Smith gave me the usual somber analysis about his fallen colleague.
That’s when I hit him cold.
“But coach, you’re not going to change the way you do your job, are you, despite what happened to Coach Walker? You’re going to keep working 18-hour days.”
Smith sheepishly chuckled and admitted that I was right; he wasn’t about to change one iota.
Not to be morbid, but half of the Division I-A coaches could drop dead tomorrow and it wouldn’t change how the other half go about their business.
Mark Dantonio was lucky. Sometimes the human heart gives you a warning sign to change your ways, whether it’s diet, exercise, smoking, what have you.
Sometimes it just quits on you, leaving a widow and a grieving family.
The procedure that Dantonio underwent—the placement of a stent to open up a closed artery—is fairly common nowadays. As far as heart episodes go, this one was on the lower end of the danger spectrum.
So how will Dantonio respond to this warning sign? Will he take his foot off the gas pedal a little bit? Will his return to work be a return to work as before, or will “normal” take on a new meaning?
But Dantonio isn’t the proper gauge of the response to this incident. It happened to him, and you can’t hit closer to home than that.
The bigger question is, how will his coaching comrades respond to what happened?
My guess is that they’ve already responded. They’ve taken their moment to speak to the local press, maybe say a prayer or two for the MSU coach and his family, and reflect.
Then it’s back to the office for another 18 hours of film, practice, and recruiting.
You can take a man out of coaching, but you can’t take coaching out of a man.