Hot Take: Mark Dantonio’s dustup with Fox Sports Radio was more awkward and lethargic than controversial
It’s an annoying experience, trying to get through a 12-minute phone call, while your text line keeps blowing up on the other end.
Ding … ding … ding … ding … ding-ding.
It’s also a surreal experience, surviving the same 12-minute sports-radio interview, while getting besieged by texts from friends and family about … someone else’s sports-radio interview.
Ding … ding … ding … ding … ding-ding.
This was my world on Wednesday evening. While attempting to answer various NFL questions with a sports station on the East Coast, the news of Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio’s brouhaha with the boys from Fox Sports Radio had apparently reached a fever pitch.
Especially with those who love to spread the gospel of hearsay. (Full disclosure: I never played a single game of ‘Telephone’ in grade school.) As in:
- Did you hear that Coach Dantonio yelled at some radio guys before hanging up?
- Can you believe the hosts were badgering him about Jim Harbaugh and eating pasta with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo?
- Don’t you think this puts Michigan State in a bad light, if Dantonio couldn’t answer a few simple questions?
It was an exhaustive few minutes of my life — time that I’ll never make up down the road.
Yes, I’m a Michigan State graduate, though you wouldn’t know it from my reader ‘hate’ mail.
Yes, I cover the Big Ten for a living.
And yes, I’m an occasional fan of the Chicago-based Mike North, one of the Fox Sports Daybreak hosts.
However, that doesn’t mean I should have a Supreme Court-esque opinion about the Dantonio/Fox Sports blowup, either. Especially without first hearing the interview.
Well, after listening to a conversation that didn’t even cover three minutes, I’m finally comfortable with the following two-word rebuttal:
Upon further review, both parties are a little at fault here. But then again, neither side was overtly sarcastic, indignant nor disrespectful, certainly not to the point that it merited a shock-and-awe response on social media.
And yet, here we are.
For those who didn’t hear Wednesday’s controversial interview, here’s the radio link.
For those who don’t have suitable headphones for the office, Dantonio’s five questions boiled down to this (paraphrasing here):
Question #1: “Has Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gotten into your head?”
Dantonio offered a politically correct answer to a vague and perhaps leading question, relaying how he doesn’t let the high-profile antics or words of other Big Ten coaches affect his every-day work.
For the record, Dantonio didn’t sigh heavily (a la Al Gore in the 2000 presidential debates) or mutter a biblical icon’s name before responding to questions (a la Bill Belichick at Patriots training camp). If anything, he was politely chagrined.
What’s more, Dantonio neglected to mention how Michigan State has knocked off Michigan seven times in the last eight years — including last season’s miracle finish in Ann Arbor. He also failed to disclose that MSU has captured two of the last three Big Ten titles.
Question #2: “Why wasn’t Michigan State QB Connor Cook named team captain last season?”
This was a major news item in the state of Michigan last summer; and it reared its ugly head again before the most recent NFL draft, as a means of explaining, or even justifying, how Cook — despite having a strong arm, big body and heralded track record in college (9,194 yards passing, 74 total TDs, two Big Ten titles) — wound up as a ho-hum Round 4 selection of the Oakland Raiders.
For a national audience, the Fox Sports Daybreak question was a fair one, albeit five-to-12 months too late. Dantonio brushed it off with a stock response, without raising his voice.
Question #3: “Do you eat a lot of pasta with Tom Izzo?”
I sincerely hope that either Furman or North have a pre-existing relationship with Izzo, Michigan State’s hoops coach since 1995 who has been to six Final Fours and has won a national championship.
Otherwise, it just comes off as a stereotypical question in these politically correct times. At best, it was a bad mimicking of something Dick Vitale might have exclaimed in the 1980s, when regaling pasta dinners with the likes of fellow Italians Rick Pitino, Jim Valvano, P.J. Carlesimo, Rollie Massimino, Lou Carnesecca, etc.
And yet, Dantonio had enough patience to simply say that he and Izzo are close friends and neighbors in the metro Lansing area.
Question #4: “Do you feel Michigan State doesn’t get enough respect nationally?”
It was a fair question to ask, even if Furman didn’t build it up with a ton of facts — aside from Michigan State’s “.800” winning percentage since 2010. Dantonio owns a 65-16 record this decade.
The coach expressed a few words of past pride and future optimism, before moving on to the next question.
At that point, radio listeners could plainly hear the Michigan State football team — or some other athletic endeavor on the MSU campus — rustling around in the background. By this time, the distraction might have been enough for Dantonio to cut the interview short.
However, he remained on the air, at least until after the final question was posed.
Question #5: A vague double inquiry about injuries with the Spartans, and then a follow-up about who will likely replace Cook as MSU’s starting quarterback?
This prompted Dantonio’s official hangup to an interview that was neither contentious nor insightful. If the coach had said something to the effect of, “Gotta go, guys. Thanks for having me on,” we wouldn’t even be discussing the matter.
And yet, here we are.
Bottom line: Unfortunately for satellite-radio loyalists and fans of Big Ten football, the hasty interview had numerous shortcomings:
It was boring.
It was incomplete.
It lacked substance and energy.
As such, it was also a double reminder that coaches loathe doing interviews where they cannot control the message, and not all radio hosts are sticklers for doing pre-show homework.
Still, it’s not worth losing sleep over. It happened, it’s not that big of deal, so let’s all move on.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports.