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Mark Dantonio on ESPN: Adding Fuel to an Already Raging Fire

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was part of a “Car Wash” on ESPN recently, though many viewers still felt quite grimy after watching the sports network giant’s numerous interviews with the coach on different programs.

The ESPN “Car Wash” presented a pulpit for college football coaches to go on the air and butt heads with different program hosts and the like, mostly involving friendly banter and the usual journalistic questions, such as, “How good do you expect to be this season?”

The problem was, it felt like Dantonio was almost an afterthought for the brass in Bristol.

It didn’t take long into the day for the MSU head honcho to maybe regret his decision to join the “Car Wash” in the first place.

In a pair of morning interviews, Dantonio was asked about Jim Harbaugh, the University of Michigan, Urban Meyer and Ohio State in six of 15 questions.

The network, which outside of its game telecasts is quite spotty in recent years, then added insult to injury. It put a shirtless Harbaugh on the screen, with Dantonio in a smaller box off to the side.

The worst part? They confused Dantonio with former Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.

October 11, 2014: Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio during a football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Michigan State Spartans at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN.

October 11, 2014: Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio during a football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Michigan State Spartans at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, IN.

Call it laziness or an honest mistake — though most would call it the former — but it’s not the first time this has happened. Prior to the Big Ten Championship Game in December 2013, a preview for the game also misspelled Dantonio’s name.

It was handled quite classily by the long-tenured Spartans coach, though. Aside from shrugging off Harbaugh questions and calling him a “proven coach” that benefits the Big Ten as a whole, along with acknowledging the lack of communication by former lineman recruit Gavin Cupp in a tricky on-the-spot question, he was pretty direct and to the point.

In terms of recruiting, Dantonio was not shy about the amount of confidence the program has to keep retooling year after year.

“I don’t pressure on recruiting. I don’t do that. If they wanna come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t,” Dantonio said on College Football Live. “But I will say this, Michigan State will get theirs. We will get ours and when we get ours, we will come to play.”

He even seemed to take control in his own hands on ESPN Radio, saying that August camp is upon them and that they need to talk about players at some point. He specifically mentioned Connor Cook, too, and how vital he is to the offense.

Notorious SEC fanatic Paul Finebaum was one of the last to interview Dantonio, throwing in one more Harbaugh question. It was shrugged off once more, with Dantonio choosing to again focus on his own program rather than others.

“Right now, we’re in a pretty good situation,” Dantonio said. “Other people have to catch up I guess.”

These TV appearances may not seem as much beyond tabloid fodder for sports geeks, but there is something behind them.

While many coaches declined to be part of the ESPN “Car Wash,” Dantonio looked at it from the perspective of, hey, a lot of high school kids on summer vacation may be watching this right now and realize that the Spartans have won 11 games four times and are among the top six teams in the country.

Whether you enjoy or loathe ESPN, people watch it. It’s free publicity for a school that is seeking its first national championship in nearly 50 years and has been among the best in the nation since the turn of the decade. MSU is no longer just a basketball school, and that’s because of Dantonio and his coaching staff.

Hearing numerous questions about Harbaugh and Michigan only make the Spartan players’ mouths salivate a little more as well. It’s classic bulletin board material. As if the game wasn’t already circled on the calendar, an asterisk with Dantonio’s Aug. 5 appearance on ESPN will serve as a reminder that respect is earned and not given.

That’s what the Spartans are all about, and it’s what Dantonio is about.

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