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Michigan St Coaching Shuffle Will Not Ease Scrutiny On Offense

Mark Dantonio photo
Al Martin
MSU football coach Mark Dantonio

Whatever changes Michigan State is making to its offense, Spartans fans may have to wait until next season to find out. New offensive coordinator Brad Salem is keeping his comments fairly vague.

“It is research mode every offseason, but it’s a little more of, OK, what can we do with the people that we have?” Salem said this week amid preparations for Saturday’s spring game. “What are things that we’ve done in the past? What are different things that people are doing and we want to do? What do we feel like we can coach? The biggest thing is, how do you score touchdowns?”

That was quite a conundrum for Michigan State last season. The Spartans were held without a TD in three of their final four games, and that doesn’t include another poor offensive showing in a 21-7 loss to Michigan in October. The Spartans finished next to last in the Big Ten in scoring.

It was no surprise when changes were made, but coach Mark Dantonio stuck by his staff, giving assistants new roles instead of replacing them.

Salem, who had been the quarterbacks coach, took over as offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Dave Warner and Jim Bollman, who had been co-offensive coordinators, were reassigned. Warner now coaches quarterbacks, and Bollman coaches the offensive line.

“I think what we’ve done is we’ve changed some things and it shows, quite a few things,” Dantonio said. “But you also have the relationship piece in place, and guys know where to go, who’s who and who’s what.”

A comparison with Michigan State’s biggest rival is unavoidable: When Michigan added a new offensive coordinator this offseason, the Wolverines hired Josh Gattis away from Alabama. The Spartans, on the other hand, looked internally for their solution.

“Guys basically move around, and each change chairs, but all of us bring value,” Salem said. “I think there’s a connection. There’s no disconnect at not knowing who the players are, because we all know who they are and what they can do. We all know what we’ve done in the past, and so those are things we can work through or do or not do.”

Dantonio has valued continuity. Warner has been on the staff for Dantonio’s whole 12-season tenure at Michigan State. Salem is entering his 10th season. Other assistants have become mainstays as well.

The Spartans have certainly had success with this group, but after a disappointing 2018 season in which Michigan State barely finished above .500, Dantonio and the staff will be under scrutiny. Quarterback Brian Lewerke wasn’t able to repeat his impressive 2017 performance, but he returns for his senior season, and getting the passing game back to its previous level would be a big help.

Lewerke said the new coaching roles aren’t a huge deal, and offensive lineman Cole Chewins had a similar reaction.

“Every coach has a different, a little bit of, coaching style, philosophy,” Chewins said. “Just takes some time getting used to, getting to know your coaches a little bit more. Especially, you build relationships with your coaches, and I think that’s what’s so great about here is that everybody has relationships with everybody, and so it’s not like you’re starting fresh. It’s just a little bit of a changeup.”

Dantonio could have made more drastic changes to his staff. Instead, he stuck with the coaches he’s familiar with. There will be pressure on all of them this coming season.

“I just think it’s the history, knowing each other, knowing your players and what they can do, confidence in each other as coaches,” Salem said. “I think it’s renewed spirit in us a little bit, because you’ve got a different position group and made a change, and I think it made the players respond to a change, which has been positive — and so obviously, we’re excited about the opportunity this fall.”

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